Judicial Salaries Sacrosanct?
The sequester is wreaking havoc on the federal judiciary’s budget but, not surprisingly, “judicial compensation” remains unaffected.
The judiciary is passing the budget cuts along to clerks, probation officers and, of course, the poor.
The federal judiciary depends on the “kindness of strangers” in the U.S. Congress for its funding. Earlier this month, the Judicial Conference of the United States appealed to President Barack Obama to make its case for funding in budget talks for 2014.
In the letter to Obama, Conference Secretary John D. Bates states the judiciary incurred an almost $350 million budget cut in 2013 as a result of the sequester.
“In order to fund increases to must-pay expenses such as judges’ compensation and (General Services Administration) rent,” Page writes, “funding allocations to court units had to be cut 10 percent below the FY 2012 level.”
Page writes that the “most significant impact” of the sequester and budgets cuts is being felt in the provision of federal public defender services to indigent criminal defendants.
The federal judiciary is required to provide legal counsel to indigent criminal defendants under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Criminal Justice Act. These services are provided through Federal Defender Offices and private panel attorneys.
Page said the judiciary has cut federal defender funding by $51 million by “reducing (Federal Defender Organization) staffing levels through layoffs and furloughs, or deferring or reducing payments to private (Criminal Justice Acct) panel attorneys.”
He states that federal defender offices downsized by more than six percent between Oct. 2012 and June 2013. Since March, he writes, “their remaining employees have been furloughed for over 12,500 days.”
Even further reductions in the defender Ssrvices budget are expected in FY 2014. At its August 15-16, 2013 meeting the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference authorized an unprecedented $15 cut in the hourly rate for panel attorneys from September 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.
Page said funding reductions also put public safety at risk. He writes that staffing in probation and pretrial services offices is down seven percent since 2011 and a “20 percent cut had to be made to the funding for drug, mental health, and sex offender treatment, as well as to drug testing services for offenders, searches, and electronic and GPS monitoring.