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March 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.

 

Judiciary Makes Case for FY 2009 Funding


The federal courts are well positioned to address an anticipated increase in immigration-related workload and other challenges, thanks to Congressional funding, representatives of the Judicial Conference told House and Senate appropriations subcommittees in March. If the Judiciary is to maintain staffing levels in the courts and initiate several program enhancements, however, a 7.6 percent increase over fiscal year 2008 enacted appropriations is needed in fiscal year 2009. The Judiciary seeks $6.72 billion for fiscal year 2009, $4.97 billion of which would fund the courts' Salaries and Expenses account.

Judge Julia Gibbons (6th Cir.) and Administrative Office Director James C. Duff testified on the federal Judiciary's fiscal year 2009 funding requirements before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, chaired by Representative José Serrano (D-NY), and before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, chaired by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). Gibbons chairs the Judicial Conference Budget Committee.

"We all know the important role that an independent federal Judiciary plays in our constitutional system," Serrano said in his opening statement. "The Judiciary, like other government entities, needs sufficient resources to properly function and perform its constitutional duties. This subcommittee, as the provider of those resources, plays an important role in helping to maintain our government's overall system of checks and balances."

Caseloads May Exceed Projections

The Judiciary believes the number of immigration-related cases will rise in the federal courts as the Administration commits significantly increased resources to the southwest border—more than doubling the number of Border Patrol agents since 2001 and adding Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) and 100 deputy U.S. Marshals in the five judicial districts along the southwest border. Detention facilities also will be expanded.

Gibbons acknowledged that the Judiciary's criminal caseload projection for 2008 does not take into account the impact additional AUSAs will have on criminal case filings and that 2008 filings may be above projected levels. "The resultant increase in criminal filings we expect to see from this infusion of resources," said Gibbons, "will impact our district judges, clerks offices, probation and pretrial services offices, and federal defender offices on the border."

The bankruptcy courts are already dealing with increased per-case work created by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, and experts predict a rise in future bankruptcy filing levels.

"From a staffing perspective," said Gibbons, "the courts are well positioned in the short term to respond to the increased workload that we expect to materialize. However, we do require additional district judgeships on the southwest border, and full funding for the construction of a new federal courthouse in San Diego is the Judiciary's top space priority."

The federal Judiciary also has requested an increase in the non-capital panel attorney rate to $118 per hour. "We believe a significant increase is required," Gibbons said, "to enable the courts to attract and retain enough qualified attorneys to accept appointments and to provide them with a fair rate of pay."

Last year, Senator Durbin asked Gibbons to comment on reports that the security of courthouses had been compromised because perimeter security provided by the Federal Protective Service (FPS) had not been maintained or repaired. This year, Senator Durbin asked for a report on progress made in resolving questions about the expense and quality of court security. Gibbons said that a pilot project will begin this year in seven courthouses to assess the feasibility of the U.S. Marshals Service assuming full responsibility from the FPS for the monitoring of the exterior of courthouses.

Cost Containment and IT Innovations Reduce Requirements

The Judiciary's cost-containment efforts and innovations in information technology have significantly reduced the Judiciary's appropriations requirements, without adversely impacting the administration of justice, Gibbons reported.

Initiatives to control personnel costs may save up to $300 million from fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2017. Rent containment initiatives have reduced costs so that the current General Services Administration (GSA) rent estimate for fiscal year 2009 is projected to be 17 percent below pre-cost containment estimates.

A rent validation program has yielded adjustments and credits to the Judiciary of over $50 million and another $10 million in adjustments has been submitted to the GSA. The Judicial Conference also has approved a rent cap of 4.9 percent on the average annual rate of growth for rent requirements for fiscal years 2009 through 2016. By comparison, the rent increase in the fiscal year 2005 budget request was 6.6 percent.

Duff also announced the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement with the GSA that will change the way rent will be calculated for all federally owned courthouses delivered in the future. "It provides the Judiciary with certainty about the amount of rent it will pay for a 20-year time period," said Duff, "rather than being subject to dramatic changes every five years as a result of changing commercial market conditions."

Another Judiciary cost containment success has been the consolidation of computer servers, in one instance reducing by 89 the number of servers and producing a cost avoidance of $2 million in the first year. The Judiciary's servers for its national accounting system will be consolidated in fiscal year 2008, which should achieve savings and cost avoidances of $55.4 million through fiscal year 2012.

The federal courts also are leaders in using state-of-the-art technology such as global positioning systems for its probation and pretrial services offices, a comprehensive court electronic case filing system, and the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, to increase the efficiency of court operations and increase public access to the courts.

Request Made for Full Funding

Thanking the subcommittees for their continued support of the federal Judiciary, Gibbons concluded, "I know you agree that a strong, independent Judiciary is crucial to our nation. I urge you to fund this request fully in order to enable us to maintain the high standards of the United States Judiciary."