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The nation’s federal courts averted a disaster when Congress approved a 4.3% increase in spending for the U.S. court system. Over the past year, more than 1,300 jobs have been slashed as federal courts dealt with two years’ worth of underfunded budgets. There was talk of additional furloughs, nonpayment of court-appointed lawyers and closing courthouses one day a week if no substantial budget increases were made in 2005. Court officials say such drastic scenarios were avoided when Congress approved $5.42 billion in spending for the U.S. courts. While it wasn’t the 5.6% requested, court officials say it is enough to avoid further reductions. “The bottom line is we’re pretty lucky,” said David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “In a year where most domestic accounts got a very small increase, the judiciary got 4.3%. Given the budgetary environment, it’s about the best you could have hoped for.” It is still unclear how much of that increase will go to D.C.’s federal court system. Since 2002, the D.C. courts’ budget has decreased more than 5%, from $15.3 million to $14.5 million. Since October 2003, 22 jobs-primarily in the clerk and probation offices-have been lost. Chief Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia says the additional funding “means we will be able to hold on to what we have.”

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