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Federal litigators in New York are mobilizing to lobby Congress to prevent a budget crisis they say could result in widespread layoffs and cutbacks in essential services. Warning that the quality of services in the federal courts is in peril, even under the most optimistic forecasts for the fiscal 2005 budget year that began on Oct. 1, a task force of the New York State Bar Association has launched an effort to persuade Washington to increase the judiciary budget. “There is a concern it’s going to get worse and worse unless something gets done,” said Jay G. Safer, head of the state bar’s Task Force on the Federal Judiciary Budget. “This is going to affect everything from programs like drug after-care and probation supervision for criminal defendants to the hours in clerks’ offices to payments to panel attorneys under the Criminal Justice Act.” Worst in years Safer, a partner at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae of New York, is former chairman of the state bar’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Section, which organized the task force this summer. He said the idea for a committee came after discussions with several federal judges, clerks and administrators concerned about the budget crisis. “I’ve been a judge now for 19 years, and the budget situation has never been as bad as it is now,” said Chief Judge John M. Walker Jr. of the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “We need all the help we can get from anybody who is willing to assist us by writing letters to Congress to alert them to the gravity of the situation.” Since Oct. 1, the federal courts have been functioning under a continuing budget resolution that keeps funding at last year’s level, which those in the system say is inadequate. Safer and his colleagues hope that an expected congressional session in November will result in a fiscal 2005 budget that contains what they call the necessary increases in funding. The 2005 federal judiciary budget approved by the House of Representatives calls for $4.2 billion; the Senate’s calls for $4.13 billion. A 50-50 compromise between the two proposed budgets would result in a 4% increase over fiscal 2004. Safer’s task force is expected to report shortly that the judiciary needs a 6.1% increase to remain at “bare bones” level. To meet the actual needs of the federal courts and avoid layoffs and service cutbacks, Walker said, the courts need funding at much higher levels. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote to Congress in September detailing the “dramatic” staff reductions that will occur if the needed appropriations bill is not passed.

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