Retired U.S. District Judge W. Royal Furgeson Jr. testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Oct. 8 about the effects of the federal government shutdown on the judiciary and access to justice.
Ferguson, who retired May 31 and began as the dean of the UNT Dallas College of Law June 18, returned to Texas the next day.
But he remains focused on the cumulative harm of earlier federal government budgetary belt-tightening and the nearly one week shutdown.
“The thing that warps my mind is that everybody talks about fidelity to the Constitution, and we are about to put a big hole in the Constitution,” Furgeson says.
The judiciary is “a co-equal branch of government, the branch that protects the civil rights of our citizens and delivers justice,” he says.
But the judiciary has endured a series of budgetary blows, starting with a freeze on its budgets imposed in 2012, this year’s across-the-board sequestration of spending in all federal agencies and the federal shutdown that began Oct. 1, Furgeson says.
If Congress fails to find a solution to the impasse, Furgeson says, the result of all that trimming — particularly in places with extremely busy criminal dockets, like the U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Western and Northern Districts of Texas — will be long trial delays that risk violating defendants’ constitutional rights to a speedy trial, Furgeson says.
“You can’t arrest people and set them in jail to rot without ever having a hearing. There are cases that are going to have to be dismissed” without a trial ever taking place, he says
The federal courts already have reduced staff training, technology purchases, and probation and pre-trial services, he says, so, future cuts must be aimed directly at courtrooms.
Furgeson believes the American Bar Association asked to testify because, as a retired member of the judiciary, he could be more frank with the legislators than his active-duty colleagues could.
“They are trying to stay away from the fray,” Furgeson says about judges still on the bench.