Published on: Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The Judicial Conference has expressed “deep concern” about pending congressional appropriations legislation, saying proposed funding levels that are far below the Judiciary’s request would have detrimental impacts on federal courts and the public (article available here).

The proposed funding levels would erode legal representation for criminal defendants and weaken IT and courthouse security, according to letters (pdf) sent July 28, 2023, to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership. The proposed insufficient funding also would increase risks to public safety due to higher caseloads for probation and pretrial services officers supervising offenders and defendants on court-ordered supervision.

The letter provided an especially stark warning about the impact on court-appointed legal representation, which is provided to more than 90 percent of all federal criminal defendants.

As a result of proposed House and Senate funding levels, a hiring freeze to all but critical positions needed to ensure office operations has been implemented for federal defender offices nationwide. St. Eve and Mauskopf said the Judiciary could be forced to lay off as many as 493 full-time positions in federal defenders’ offices, 12 percent of the total staff, or delay payments to court-appointed private lawyers by two to three months.

“In many judicial districts, attorneys were not available to provide representational services as needed by the courts, resulting in case delays,” the judges wrote. “It took the Defender Services program several years to recover from sequestration. … We ask for your assistance to ensure that funding shortfalls do not again constrain our ability to provide court-appointed counsel to eligible defendants.”

Other proposed funding levels would affect Judiciary cybersecurity and the physical safety of courthouses and judges.