Congress needs to restore funding to the federal court system or risk problems like lengthy case delays, inadequate counsel for criminal defendants and reduced safety at courthouses, an official with the Judicial Conference of the United States told a congressional panel on March 20. Judge Julia Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the chair of the judicial conference’s budget committee, testified on Capitol Hill that she is "more concerned than ever" about how well the justice system can function after the $350 million cuts to the courts, part of broader mandatory cuts called sequestration.

The courts have requested Congress to restore funding levels to the federal courts’ 2014 budget, as well as provide a $180 million increase from the 2013 budget. Gibbons testified that the courts do not have programs they can cut because all of its work is assigned by the Constitution and laws. "We look to Congress to recognize the uncontrollable nature of our workload and provide the resources needed to perform this essential work," she told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

As things stand now, the federal public defender services program will be particularly hard hit by the cuts. The courts expect significant staff furloughs and delays in paying appointed private counsel. David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York, has estimated that each of his agency’s 39 attorneys will be furloughed one day a week starting in April and running to Sept. 30 (NYLJ, March 18).

The largest share of the sequestration cuts, $93 million, would come from salaries. Court officials in each district will have to decide whether to achieve the cuts by closing courts, furloughing employees, or layoffs. Administrators in New York’s Southern and Eastern districts hope to avoid staff cuts by trimming other areas (NYLJ, March 4).