Judge Julia Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Judge Julia Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. (Photo: Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts.)

The federal courts plan to backfill many of the staff and public defender positions lost during last year’s steep budget cuts, top judiciary officials told House lawmakers today on Capitol Hill.

The spending bill that Congress passed for fiscal year 2014 will allow the courts to reverse most of the emergency measures put in place last year because of nearly $350 million in cuts to the courts as part of sequestration, said Judge Julia Gibbons, chairwoman of the budget committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference.

The courts will be able to fill some of the more than 3,200 staff lost in recent years in clerks’ offices and probation and pretrial services offices, Gibbons told members of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations subcommittee. The judiciary plans to fill 400 staff positions lost in defender organizations, said Gibbons, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

“We anticipate this will take at least two years to accomplish but we are committed to restoring the program to its former strength, and with your help we can do that,” Gibbons testified.

Additionally, funding for federal defender programs allowed the courts on March 1 to restore a $15 cut to hourly rates for Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys. That law provides authorizes the payment of private attorneys to provide indigent defense.

The judiciary requested $6.7 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal year 2015, which starts Oct. 1. That would be a 3.4 percent increase and allow the courts to maintain operations at the 2014 level and recover from the budget cuts, Gibbons said today.

That was the same amount listed in President Barack Obama’s budget request to Congress released earlier this month.

Today’s hearing carried a much different tone than a year ago, when Gibbons testified about the harm sequestration would cause on the judiciary.”Our fears were realized,” Gibbons said today.

Sequestration caused delays in case processing and led to reduced services at courthouses and lower funding for court security, Gibbons said today.

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com. On Twitter: @ToddRuger.