As Attorneys Grow Uneasy, Federal Courts Prepare For Worst
Though the federal judiciary set aside enough money to keep courts funded for the first two weeks of a government shutdown, it has not quite been business as usual at courthouses in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.
Funding was cut-off for government-appointed defense lawyers, and so some have filed motions to delay hearings and trials out of concerns they might not get paid if those court sessions take place before Congress resolves the impasse.
And, while the federal courts in Connecticut have enough funding to operate until October 15, administrators are already looking at ways to keep some non-essential workers, such as clerks and probation officers, home in the event that the shutdown continues.
"As far as what's going to happen on October 16, we don't know," U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall, the new chief administrative judge in Connecticut, said on Thursday, October 3. "We're hoping for the best, but we really don't know."
As far as which court staff members might be told to stay home, Hall said "it will be a difficult decision to make, because we feel like we're at the bone right now."
Statewide, the federal court clerical staff has been reduced from 64 to 56 in the past three years, meaning workloads are already heavy, Hall explained. Judges, she noted, must work without paychecks, because they have a constitutional obligation to provide judicial services. But without sufficient support staff members available, the administration of justice is likely to slow down.
Terence S. Ward, the federal defender for Connecticut, whose office provides legal representation for indigent defendants in federal criminal cases, said his office would remain open at least until October 15. If the shutdown isn't resolved at that time, Ward said, the federal judiciary "will reassess its situation and provide further guidance."
"We are funded for the first ten days through the funds collected from court fees," he said. Like Judge Hall, Ward said if the shutdown continues, he will have to make decisions about whether employees are essential to the administration of justice, or non-essential.
Even if he has to send some workers home, Ward said the operations of the federal public defender will continue "for a time. But employees who work will not receive paychecks during the shutdown."
Those workers will have to trust they will be paid later for the work they perform.