“The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in his year-end report Tuesday.
He predicted an additional cut of 1,000 court staff jobs in 2014 if Congress retains the sequester-level budget freeze and an extension of the $15 per hour cut in pay for private lawyers hired to represent indigent defendants.
The 5 percent across-the-board sequestration cut in March reduced the Judiciary funding by $350 million in fiscal year 2013. Congress did approve a $7 billion appropriation for the Judiciary budget for fiscal year 2014. That is $180 million less than the courts requested.
Court staffing levels have been reduced by 3,100, about 14 percent, to 19,000 employees, he said.
That is the lowest staffing level since 1997. In addition, federal public defender offices have cut staffing by 11 percent in fiscal year 2013 alone.
Of the $7 billion budget, the Judicial Conference’s revised appropriation request includes $5 billion goes for salaries and expenses to operate the courts nationwide. “The request would restore some staff positions in clerks of court and probation and pretrial services offices,” Roberts said.
If the courts are subject to a hard freeze at the sequester amount, “the future would be bleak,” he said.
The courts would need to cut allocations another 3 percent below the 2013 levels, creating a loss of another 1,000 court staff. That would result in greater delays in resolving civil and criminal cases, he said.
The Judicial Conference also asked for $1 billion to fund defender services, for 210,000 criminal representations for 2014 and to pay for costs deferred as a result of the sequester.
In addition, private attorneys hired to represent indigent criminal defendants would face a continuation of the $15 per hour rate cut imposed in 2013.
Full statement here.