NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- A group of lawyers who practice in Connecticut, New York and Vermont federal courts, in a letter to President Barack Obama and nearly 50 members of Congress last week, say they're concerned about the effects of sequestration on the courts.
"The importance of federal courts to our democratic system cannot be overstated. In their role of administering justice, the federal courts provide services that are mandated by the Constitution and protect the fundamental rights of Americans of all backgrounds," Federal Bar Council President Robert J. Anello wrote in a letter dated June 27.
"These roles cannot be unreasonably curtailed in the face of budgetary constraints without doing violence to our system."
Sequestration refers to a set of automatic federal spending cuts put into law by the Budget Control Act, signed by Obama in August 2011. The legislation raised the debt ceiling and was intended to put pressure on Congress to come up with a longer term plan for deficit reduction.
The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, which were triggered March 1, will be spread over nine years and are equally divided between domestic and defense-related spending. The cuts are set to end in 2021.
For the remaining fiscal year 2013, the spending reductions are about $85 billion alone.
In May, the U.S. Judicial Conference asked the White House for $73 million in emergency funding to address what it calls "critical needs" resulting from the cuts.
The emergency funding would replace only a small portion of the $350 million in funding reductions imposed upon the federal courts by sequestration.
FBC members contend the cuts already are hurting the courts and the criminal justice system in the Second Circuit.
"The federal courts are essential to, among other things, protecting the public safety through the criminal law; promoting the orderly transaction of business through the commercial law; protecting consumers and investors through the antitrust and securities laws; and redressing discrimination in statutory and constitutional civil rights cases," Anello wrote in the council's six-page letter.
Although the sequestration has affected all federal courts, Anello noted that the effects have been "particularly acute" in the Second Circuit because of New York City -- he called it the country's "financial capital" and one of its "chief gateways for immigrants."
"As a result, courts in the Second Circuit bear a heavy caseload and have a high concentration of complex and high-profile cases," he wrote.
Anello said it is "imperative" that Congress and the President reach an agreement to restore funding of the federal courts to pre-sequestration levels, at the least.
"As a result of the sequester, the budget for the Federal Defenders has been dramatically reduced, a reduction that is penny-wise and pound-foolish both because it has slowed the enforcement of the criminal laws and because it has required indigent defendants to be represented, at taxpayers' expense, by more costly private attorneys," he wrote.
"The disposition of criminal cases also has been slowed by cuts to these courts' Probation and Pre-Trial Services Departments, which play a crucial role in sentencing defendants, and which protect the public safety by supervising defendants on probation.
"More generally, the courts in this Circuit have been compromised by cuts to their security and physical maintenance budgets, reduced job security for personnel in all departments, and reduced hours for bankruptcy proceedings."
The FBC, which began in 1928, currently has about 3,700 members.
To read the council's full letter, click here.
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