Sequester and the Judiciary

Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic has an excellent article on the impact of the sequester on the federal judiciary. Already there are layoffs and furloughs at federal defenders' offices and courts are reducing staff. Law enforcement is also taking a hit.

The Federal Times reports 21,000 court employees could be affected.

U.S. marshals, who furnish courthouse security, and federal prosecutors face furloughs of up to 14 days by the end of September.

There are some exemptions: "Like members of Congress, judges cannot be furloughed. Also exempted are law clerks and other “chambers” staff employees."

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    Considering... (none / 0) (#1)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 09:15:55 AM EST
    federal prosecutors get the lion's share of the cashish compared to federal public defenders, the prosecution side should be eating the whole cuts...if anybody gave a damn about justice.

    But those that hold the purse strings must be pro-prosecution since they'be been giving defense the short end of the stick since forever...they'll cut defense to the bone before the prosector is even asked to switch to no-frills coffee.

    On the brightside, if the grave warnings/threats are true, 20% less people will have to pee in a justice system cup.

    Federal Prosecutors (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 09:48:19 AM EST
    Could be looking at about a $101 million budget cut, should sequester stay in place.

    First, let's recap how the sequester works. Unless a deal is struck, most types of federal spending must be cut by a uniform amount -- tentatively 7.9 percent for most types of defense discretionary funding and 5.3 percent for non-defense discretionary funding. (Certain programs are shielded from sequestration cuts entirely, including Social Security, federal retirement payments, veterans compensation, Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and veteran's health programs. Medicare would be cut by 2 percent.)

    The uniform cuts must be applied to any "program, project or activity" that isn't otherwise exempted.

    The most obvious way the sequester could produce cutbacks in prosecutions is through the Department of Justice's budgetary line, "Salaries and Expenses, United States Attorneys." According to the Office of Management and Budget, the amount in that category that is subject to the sequester is $1.9 billion. Assuming a 5.3 percent cut, that works out to about a $101 million reduction.

    The sequester would affect "every district, reducing the number of cases they can prosecute," the Justice Department said in a statement to PolitiFact. "The Justice Department anticipates U.S. Attorneys' Offices will handle 1,600 fewer civil cases and 1,000 fewer criminal cases. Fewer affirmative civil and criminal cases will affect our ability to ensure that justice is served and impact funds owed to the government."

    Outside experts agree the cuts will be real. "It's certainly a fair statement that budgetary constraints affect who gets prosecuted and what gets prosecuted," said Mary Graw Leary, a Catholic University of America law professor. "It's fair to think there will be an effect on what cases will be pursued if there is a drastic contraction in budgets."

    That said, there are reasons to be cautious in jumping to conclusions:

    (It then goes on to discuss those conclusions)

    But a little bit more than "no frills coffee".

    And while the sequester could also severaly hamper the already overworked Federal Defenders Offices, please remember that this will also affect civil trials in federal courts, bankruptcy proceedings, civil rights cases, affirmative action cases, federal probation offices, court security, etc.


    It is up to each (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 10:35:36 AM EST
    district and circuit court to decide how to absorb its share of the cuts.

    My question is...is anyone looking at what is spent on coffee and copy paper and the like?  Is every effort being made to maximize every dollar and allocate it in the most necessary important way?  

    Or is this more evidence of my "spiteful sequester" theory....keep wasting/mismanaging the cashish renovating the big shot's office and having their portrait painted, and just lay people off and make the public suffer unnecessarily to make the cuts when they could be made in better ways that do not negatively impact the general public so.


    I think (none / 0) (#4)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 11:25:00 AM EST
    You've never been in a US Attorney's Office.

    At least in my experience, I did an internship in the Detroit office several years ago, so I didn't see every floor.  But the office suite I was in had your standard cheap cubes, cheap carpeting, and not anywhere near top-notch amenities.

    Now, the actual US Attorney may have a nice office, but like just about every government installation, there's not much that's fancy or high-end in the offices.

    75-90% of their budgets (from what I've been reading) are in personnel costs - not necessarily wasteful stuff.

    Average salary of federal prosecutor:

    Attorneys hired straight out of college with no courtroom experience and only a law degree are placed at Step 1 of the GS-11 pay grade and receive base pay of $50,287 annually as of 2011, according to the Department of Justice. Those with advanced degrees, or a year of experience in a clerkship, may be placed into the salary schedule at Step 1 of pay grade GS-12 or GS-13, which earn base pay of $60,274 and $71,674, respectively.

    Experienced Assistant U.S. Attorneys

    Assistant U.S. Attorneys who enter the Justice Department with experience in the practice start at a higher pay grade than recent graduates. Attorneys with less than a year's experience in the courtroom are hired at GS-11 pay --- $50,287 annually as of 2011 --- while those with 12 to 17 months experience start at GS-12 and earn $60,274 each year. Those with 18-29 months of experience start at GS-13, earning $71,674, while those who start with 30 months of experience begin work at the GS-14 pay grade and earn $84,697 annually. Attorneys with four or more years of experience start their career as an Assistant U.S. Attorney at GS-15, and earn an average salary of $99,628. After four years, an assistant U.S. Attorney may be eligible to be promoted to GS-15 pay grades.

    Average salary of a federal defender:

    The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals sets the salary for federal public defenders so that it doesn't exceed the salary of the U.S. attorney in the same district. Salaries do vary by district to account for cost-of-living differences in different areas of the country. If the defender receives additional salary above the base salary scale, this is called "locality pay."


    Experienced Attorneys

    Public defenders can fall within the GS-11 to GS-15 pay grades. Where they start on that scale depends on their experience, though the Department of Justice notes that negotiation also plays a role in establishing salary for experienced attorneys. To be eligible for the GS-15 pay grade, attorneys must have at least four years of experience. In 2011, the base salary for this pay grade was $99,628 to $129,517 a year. With additional locality pay, this rate can go much higher.

    Entry-level Attorneys
    While generally the only experience considered is actual experience as lawyers, entry-level attorneys are sometimes hired through the Honors Program. Honors Program attorneys have a law degree with experience as a clerk or they may be studying post-law or pursuing legal fellowships. Entry-level attorneys are generally hired as assistant defenders. Their base salary can range from $50,287 a year to $71,674. With additional locality pay, this rate can go much higher.

    So, their pay is same.

    And yes, the GAO and OIG look at how government offices spend their money - for both the Federal Defenders Office AND the US Attorney's Office.

    A lot of people are going to slip through the cracks if all of these programs have to continue to operate under sequestration rules (that's not, of course, to say that every office probably couldn't do a little belt-tightening).


    I'm not talking pay... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 11:42:23 AM EST
    the resources allocated to fund a prosecution and a public defense are more than just pay...prosecutors get more resources.

    I guess what I would like to hear from every sector of the federal government regarding the sequester is we did a,b,c, to cut costs without negatively impacting services rendered, before I hear the dire warnings.

    Like for example, why can't we change the 20% cut to drug testing to 100% or 80%? Is collecting pee more important than a vigorous defense or access to civil court?  Or (you'll like this one;) dropping a prosecution for lack of funds?

    It's hard to take cries of poverty seriously from people that just wasted a boatload of cash trying to prosecute Roger F*ckin' Clemens.  I just think we should take all thse threats and warnings with a heavy grain of salt, coming from government outfits who have exhibited no sense of priorities for decades.


    You have a valid argument (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 12:34:15 PM EST
    And they are planning on dropping prosecutions - but that doesn't necessarily mean justice will be done (it's not just drug possession cases - you have to think of cases they will also drop - ones with actual victims, but because of cuts in funding, they won't have the money to even investigate those crimes, let alone prosecute.) So, are you willing to say to a victim of a crime who won't see justice, that  "Hey, too bad, but at least they aren't prosecuting drug claims anymore!"

    Point taken... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 15, 2013 at 12:59:47 PM EST
    even my anti-law&order arse will admit prosecutions are sometimes necessary and just, and no victim of a real crime should be told "sorry, no money left to get you justice".

    I'm afraid the m.o. is they would still prosecute Roger Clemens, but do even less investigating/prosecuting of big banks.


    As for the ambiguity of sequestration... (none / 0) (#8)
    by heidelja on Sun Mar 17, 2013 at 08:54:49 AM EST
    The sequester would affect "every district, reducing the number of cases they can prosecute," the Justice Department said in a statement to PolitiFact. "The Justice Department anticipates U.S. Attorneys' Offices will handle 1,600 fewer civil cases and 1,000 fewer criminal cases. Fewer affirmative civil and criminal cases will affect our ability to ensure that justice is served and impact funds owed to the government."

    Just think of the ambiguity in this broad statement of "dire consequences" brought on by sequestration and one then should more easily be left scratching their head over "Just what/where is the problem here?" Are the 1,600/1,000 numbers for each district or is this a grand estimate of ALL districts which at worst should be seen as 32/20 per district given one district per state? Of the 32/20 how might justice (not) be served? Lower penalties to avoid needless trials as opposed to "no prosecution for lack of funds"?

    Here's the reality...there is no successful corporate entity that has not survived a 5% reduction and not come out better in the end for doing so. If large corporations can do it, so too can government entities. This is why the DJIA has been at all time highs lately.