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The federal judiciary says a looming wave of immigration prosecutions, staff cost-of-living pay adjustments and raises for defense lawyers assigned to indigents are among the reasons it needs a 7.6% increase in its fiscal year 2009 budget. The request for a total budget of $6.72 billion does not include the 26% pay increase for federal judges recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee in December, according to Judge Julia S. Gibbons, chairwoman of the budget committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which sets judiciary policy. A judicial pay raise cannot be in this budget request because it has not yet been authorized by Congress, Gibbons explained. The most significant issues are getting “sufficient appropriations to retain staff and pay rents,” Gibbons said. She said significant cost-containment efforts would enable courts to shave a projected $300 million in personnel costs during the next eight years, without resorting to layoffs. Chief Judge Paul R. Michel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit also submitted a budget statement seeking a nearly 20% increase for the court, up from $27 million to $32.4 million, largely for seven senior judges who will help the court issue more patent rulings in 2009. During the judiciary’s first pitch to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s financial services and general government subcommittee on March 12, Gibbons asked for a two-step pay hike for criminal attorneys who serve on noncapital, indigent defense panels. The increase would raise noncapital defense pay from $100 per hour to $140 per hour by 2010. The interim step would raise pay to $118 per hour in fiscal year 2009, at a cost of $17.5 million. It is not clear whether the judiciary will get the requested raise, but even with the full amount the hourly rate for noncapital defense lawyers has not kept up with basic inflation, said Barry Portman, the federal public defender in San Francisco. Although court staff gets pay differentials for expensive cities such as San Francisco, private indigent defense lawyers do not. Pay uniformity instituted a decade ago “made it better in Fargo [N.D.] and Birmingham [Ala.] but did nothing in San Francisco or Chicago,” he said. Gibbons said, based on surveys among members of the bench, most judges believe that pay has been one reason “for the difficulty in attracting qualified, experienced counsel to serve on the panels.” In addition, she said, given the infusion of resources by the Bush administration for border agents and federal prosecutors to press immigration enforcement and prosecution, an increase of caseloads in the five border district courts of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is likely. The courts have asked for 10 new judges in Southwest border states to deal with immigration-related surge. “From a staffing perspective, the courts are well-positioned in the short term to respond to the increased workload that we expect to materialize. However, we do require additional district judgeships on the Southwest border, and full funding for the construction of a new federal courthouse in San Diego is the judiciary’s top space priority,” Gibbons said. Gibbons pointed to significant cost-containment efforts within the judiciary, including a projected $200 million savings in rent paid to the General Services Administration, down from $1.2 billion to below $1 billion. This comes from national training to spot overcharges and rent errors in GSA bills. Another $55 million in savings projected through 2012 comes from consolidation of a variety of computer networks, including the judiciary’s national data network into computer servers in a single location. One of the largest savings was projected to be $300 million in personnel costs � roughly $37.5 million annually, over eight years � without resorting to layoffs, said Gibbons. The spending plan calls for reduced funding to districts to pay salary step increases for employees, limit the number of career law clerks, curb law clerk pay and update benchmarks that govern staff grades and classification nationally. As part of a pilot project, the U.S. Marshals Service will assume responsibility for perimeter protection of seven federal courthouses, replacing the Federal Protective Service. The seven sites for the 18-month experiment will be Chicago; Detroit; New York; Phoenix; Tucson, Ariz.; and two courthouses in Baton Rouge, La.

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