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WASHINGTON — Anticipating a substantial budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, the Judicial Conference on Tuesday approved $225 million in cost-cutting measures, including substantial layoffs and a moratorium that will freeze plans for 42 new federal courthouses — including one in San Jose. Between 2,000 and 4,800 judicial employees may be laid off in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, said Carolyn Dineen King, chief judge of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and chair of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference, the policy-making body of the judiciary. Deep cuts, as well as layoffs, are already planned in San Francisco. “This comes at a very great cost to our system,” King told reporters following the conference’s private meeting at the Supreme Court. Hardest hit initially may be probation offices, where layoffs that took place this year have already slowed the preparation of pre-sentence reports and created a logjam of defendants awaiting sentencing. Supervision of released prisoners may be limited to only the most serious felons because of layoffs. Chief Judge King ascribed the judiciary’s budget crunch to “huge” wartime budget deficits that leave Congress unable to fund the courts at anywhere near the level needed to maintain current services. “As long as that is the case and we are at war,” she said, Congress “is going to have to cut what they give to other people.” The problem arises because Congress may pass a continuing resolution to keep funding for the judiciary and other agencies at 2004 levels, a hard freeze that would be “devastating” to the courts, according to a letter sent to Congress last week by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who heads the conference. The judiciary needs 6 percent more than it received last year just to maintain current services. The House approved $4.2 billion for judiciary salaries and expenses for next year in July, a 5.6 percent increase over last year. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $4.1 billion. But if agreement cannot be reached, a continuing resolution that would last weeks or months is still possible. Given that the budget concerns may last “a long time,” King said the conference is actively rethinking all of its space needs to “reduce the footprint” of courts and supporting offices. Rental payments to the General Services Administration account for 22 percent of the judiciary’s budget, King said, up from 15 percent in 1985. “We have to pay the rent,” noted King. Advances in electronic filing and record keeping will play a big role in reducing space needs, she added. Salary levels for employees will also be scrutinized. Locally, the budget problems are hitting heaviest at the Northern District clerk’s office. Last week, four more people were informed they would be out of jobs at the end of the month, bringing to 14 the number of people lost in the past 11 months, through layoffs and unfilled vacancies, out of 126 employees. Even if there’s no hard freeze, Clerk Richard Wieking expects to lay off five more people. Less money under the hard freeze scenario would mean even more layoffs. The two-year moratorium on new construction will affect courthouse plans differently, depending on how far along they are. Projects in Buffalo, Savannah, Ga., and Mobile, Ala., will go forward because their designs are mostly complete. Projects that are in earlier design stages, including those in Austin, Texas, and Fort Pierce, Fla., will proceed, but space needs will be re-examined. Planned courthouse projects in border districts such as Los Angeles, San Diego, El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, N.M. — where a glut of drug and immigration cases have triggered what the conference calls “judicial emergencies” — are exempt from the moratorium. The 42 early-stage projects that will be halted by the moratorium, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, include Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.; Wilmington, Del.; Dallas and Houston; Fort Lauderdale, Panama City, and West Palm Beach, Florida; Macon, Ga.; and San Jose. Tony Mauro is Supreme Court correspondent for American Lawyer Media and The Recorder’s Washington, D.C., affiliate Legal Times. Recorder reporter Jeff Chorney contributed to this report.

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