BOISE, Idaho (Legal Newsline) -- Two Idaho federal judges, in a letter last week to the state's congressional delegation, say the courts are facing a financial crisis "unparalleled" in the state's 150-year history.
B. Lynn Winmill, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, and Terry L. Myers, chief judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of Idaho, sent a four-page letter to U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador, all of whom are Republicans.
In their letter Thursday, the federal judges said the fiscal year 2014 budget makes it "impossible" for them to properly serve the state's citizens. And the projected budgets for fiscal year 2015 and beyond threaten their ability to "continue to even function as a court and an independent branch of government."
They note in their letter that the Idaho district courts are not the only federal courts facing such budget problems.
Winmill is one of the 87 federal judges who sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, who also serves as U.S. Senate President, expressing his concern about the impacts "flat funding" and sequestration are having on the judiciary.
Sequestration refers to a set of automatic federal spending cuts put into law by the Budget Control Act, signed by President Barack 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.
"The judiciary as a whole is facing a serious financial crisis," Winmill and Myers wrote. "However, the circumstances we face here in the District of Idaho are even more dire."
The judges said under sequestration the courts will experience a $700,000 shortfall in its salary account for the upcoming fiscal year.
To address the "catastrophe," they have had to terminate six employees; impose furloughs for the rest of the staff, amounting to 13 days per employee beginning April 2014; and reprogram up to 70 percent of their IT budget to the salaries account.
"It should be noted that the reprogramming of IT funds was an act of desperation," Winmill and Myers wrote. "It was only done to avoid laying off another eight employees.
"This cannot be repeated in the future without jeopardizing our entire court operation, which has become so dependent on automation."
The judges said the budget cuts also have hurt probation and pretrial services, and have had a "profound impact" on federal defender services.
In their letter, the judges ask for a meeting with the delegation.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.