As the federal government shutdown enters its third week, the federal courts in New Jersey are facing a day of reckoning.
The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey projects that fee income and other resources will enable it to continue to function through Friday.
“The Judiciary has severely restricted spending during that period so that limited additional funding now exists,” the court said in an announcement. “Spending rates and fund balances will continue to be monitored closely in hope that adequate funds may be available to allow courts to operate through the end of the work week — October 18.”
What happens after Friday is unclear. Government officials were unavailable for comment Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday.
“We’re all holding our breath and waiting to see what happens,” says Gerald Krovatin, president of the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will remain open for business despite not receiving an appropriation, Chief Judge Theodore McKee said last Thursday.
“The dispensing of justice is mandated by the Constitution and essential to government, and the resolution of cases and controversies is the principal work and product of the federal courts,” McKee said.
Most judiciary employees, from judges down, are considered essential employees and therefore are exempt from being furloughed, he said.
While all Third Circuit employees are expected to continue to work, without being paid until the shutdown is over, McKee said all training would be suspended, as well as nearly all travel and all new hiring.
McKee asked that the General Services Administration, the Federal Protective Service and the U.S. Marshal’s Service continue their functions, as they are necessary for the courts to operate.
U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in New Jersey will open on Tuesday, but an assessment will be made then of the courts’ fiscal situation, according to an announcement made on Thursday by Chief U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle.
The effect of the shutdown on the federal Immigration Courts was not immediately known, although the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 1 that 70 percent of all employees, including judges, had been furloughed throughout all 59 courts, and that only cases in which immigrants are detained are being heard.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which has about 85 percent of its employees still working, announced that criminal trials will continue in all federal district courts, but adjournment requests may be made in individual civil cases in which the U.S. government is a party.
“Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property,” the department says in a memo entitled “FY 2014 Contingency Plan.”
As for civil litigation, if a party requests an adjournment and that is denied, the judge’s order will be meant to constitute legal authorization for the case to continue, the plan says.
The U.S. Parole Commission also will continue its work because of constitutional prohibitions against the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the plan says.
Despite the Justice Department’s announcement to the contrary, Krovatin, of Newark’s Krovatin Klingeman, says if the shutdown continues, criminal trials will be the most adversely affected.
“The Public Defender already has been crippled by the sequestration,” he says.
Krovatin adds that federal pretrial services and probation services — which are essential to the criminal trial process — are not exempt from furloughs.
“And a lot is going to depend on whether the chief judge will be able to keep courtrooms open,” he says.