By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The New York County Lawyers Association Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts will hold a day-long public hearing to receive testimony about the continuing impact of judicial budget cuts on the administration of justice.
A September report by the Task Force revealed the dire need to address increased workloads and decreased budgets within federal courts. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Julia Gibbons noted, “overall, the Judiciary’s workload is at or near record levels in most filing categories,” including increasing “bankruptcy, immigration, and pretrial and post-trial supervision needs.”
Budgets have been decreasing rapidly. The Eastern District of New York’s (EDNY’s) Fiscal Year 2013 budget was less than that of Fiscal Year 2008, which in turn was less than the Fiscal Year 2005 budget, the Task Force report stated. Congress has been lowering the budgets for the majority of federal branches and agencies, with the most signficiant instances being the December 2012 sequester and the October government shutdown.
Courts are in a peculiar position, separate from many branches of government, because the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts have a direct impact of the lives and property of others. “Courts cannot and should not be immune from the belt tightening that the entire government has faced,” the report observed, but the “courts are not in the same position as an administrative agency or bureaucracy.”
EDNY Chief Judge Carol Amon reported that probation officers, for example, are taking almost a month longer to complete Presentence Investigation Reports — written reports that detail a defendant’s past criminal history, employment, education and other information relevant to sentencing -- and are unable to do the field work necessary to verify the reports.
The resulting effect is that some defendants are sentenced for longer than necessary or given too light a sentence, allowing for the potential of dangerous offenders being placed back in society.
The cuts to the judiciary budget not only effects the courts’ ability to address court calendars, it also causes a reduction in the security and protection of courthouses and their occupants. In 2012 alone, the EDNY “ received 42 threats against judges and court officials, including a plot to assassinate [Brooklyn Federal Judge] Joseph F. Bianco,” the report noted.
The Dec. 2 hearing will follow up on the September report and discuss, in particular, the impact of the budget cuts on the state courts and the impact on children, families and the public, the impact of cuts on the federal courts including court operations, criminal defense, public safety, and the administration of justice, as well as discern how the bar views the effects of budget cuts. The hearing will be open to the public. The hearing will take place at the New York County Lawyers’ Association, 14 Vesey St. between Church and Broadway, New York, New York from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Amon and Hon. Carla E. Craig, Brooklyn's Chief Bankruptcy Court judge are slated to speak.
As Amon pointed out in the September report, cuts have “reduce[d] public confidence in the judiciary and the morale of the court’s employees.”