By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The projected tidal wave that federal budget cuts will have on Brooklyn courts has become a reality.
Citing the impact of federal budget cuts, a federal judge has rejected prosecutors' request to sequester a jury in a murder and racketeering trial in Brooklyn.
Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. said he would keep the jurors' names secret but wouldn't take extra measures because the court had to "be mindful of today's economic climate."
According to The New York Times, the judge wrote in a 10-page decision that federal sequestration "has forced cuts to the marrow."
His ruling came in the case of a Brooklyn man accused of leading a street gang that ran a drug operation for 12 years from four buildings they controlled in the Crown Heights section.
Earlier this year, in response to the looming debt crisis, Congress passed a sequester bill — an array of budget cuts to the military and domestic discretionary spending.
Intended to be a negotiation tool to force Congressional Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal that curbs government spending while simultaneously increasing tax revenue, the federal sequester has now become a bludgeoning device preventing either side from giving any ground.
The negotiations have not succeeded and the sequester went into effect, leaving hundreds of legal service agencies grappling with the idea of decreased funding, and in some cases an elimination of funds and programs.
“Much of the legal services community, particularly Legal Services NYC that gets at least one-third of its money from the federal government will be affected by the sequester,” said Marty Needelman, executive director and chief counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, interviewed by the Eagle in February.
Having separated itself from the city wide legal services system, Brooklyn A does not receive direct federal funding. “Brooklyn A will not lose direct funding, but we will feel secondary waves,” Needelman noted.
“Sequestration will effect a significant amount of money that comes into the State,” explained Needleman. “If the state loses funding, then the state will have to cut back on the funding they provide to legal services such as Brooklyn A.”
Steve Banks, chief attorney to the Legal Aid Society echoed Needelman’s sentiments. Similar to Brooklyn A, the Legal Aid Society does not receive any direct federal funding. Despite its non-dependence on federal funds, the Legal Aid Society, as Brooklyn A, will feel a ripple effect. There will be a trickle-down effect, Banks said.
“The city and the state receive federal block grant money, a portion of which the state and city provide us for our services to low-income communities. And any reduction in this funding that result in state and city cuts will make the current grim situation even direr,“ Banks continued.
“Brooklyn residents will experience problems ranging from lack of access to certain benefits and further limitations to the access of legal services,” he said.
However, at the time the federal sequestration went into effect, it did not appear that the looming sequester will have a sudden impact on Brooklyn’s courts. Barry Kamins, Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters for the Second Judicial District, said at the time that “my understanding is that [the sequester] will not have any immediate impact on court operations.”
Sudden, immediate, or delayed, it is clear that the political wrangling in Washington will have an effect on the legal services provided to and the lives of Brooklyn residents.