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Jurors, Defense Lawyers Receive Rate Increases; Funding Approved for 3 Courthouses

The daily fee paid to federal jurors will increase for the first time since 1990, private attorneys appointed to represent indigents will receive an hourly rate increase, and the General Services Administration will get $437 million to build three urgently needed courthouse projects, as a result of funding included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

The legislation, signed March 23 by President Trump, provides the Judiciary with $7.1 billion in discretionary appropriations. That is an increase of $184 million, or 2.7 percent, over fiscal year 2017, and provides full funding of all Judiciary accounts for this fiscal year.

“This is an excellent result and enables the Judiciary to fulfill its mission,” said James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. “We are especially pleased that Congress recognized the critical public service provided by the citizens who serve on juries as well as the attorneys who represent defendants who can’t afford a lawyer.”

District Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judiciary’s Budget Committee, added that the Judiciary works diligently to contain costs. “Our ability to sustain our past funding levels will depend on continuing to show Congress that we are good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Here are highlights of new appropriations that affect the Judiciary:

  • Juror fees. The daily fee for federal jurors was increased from $40 to $50, the first such increase in nearly 30 years. The new rate will take effect May 7. The fee applies to both grand jurors and those who serve on trial, or petit, juries.
  • Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel Attorney Hourly Rate Increase. The hourly rate for court-appointed private lawyers, known as CJA panel attorneys, rose $8, to $140 an hour in non-capital cases. This included a $2 hourly cost-of-living adjustment, and an additional $6 hourly increase. Surveys showed that it was getting more difficult to retain qualified and experienced panel attorneys in district courts at the prior rates.

    Attorneys in capital cases received a $3 hourly cost-of-living adjustment, raising their rate to $188 an hour.
  • Courthouse construction. GSA, which manages all Judiciary facilities, received funding for new projects in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ($137.2 million); Huntsville, Alabama ($110 million); and Fort Lauderdale, Florida ($190 million).

    All three have significant security issues, with prisoners, judges and the public all using the same elevators and hallways. They also lack sufficient courtroom space. The Huntsville courthouse, built in 1936, has only one stairwell, creating life safety issues in the event of a fire or other emergency.

    The Fort Lauderdale courthouse is located in an adapted commercial office building not designed for use as a court. Two additional courtrooms and two more judges’ chambers are needed, and because of a lack of secure corridors, prisoners, court personnel, and the public move through the same common spaces.

    The $437 million GSA appropriation follows Congressional funding in 2016 that funded nine new courthouse projects, and provided partial funding for the Harrisburg project.

    “The Judiciary greatly appreciates the funding for these critically needed projects,” said District Judge Susan R. Bolton, chair of the Judiciary’s Space and Facilities Committee. “We’re very pleased that Congress continues to show confidence in the Judiciary’s construction program.”

The funding legislation also provided one-year extensions for nine temporary district judgeships whose authorizations expire in fiscal year 2018. The affected courts are the Northern District of Alabama; District of Arizona; Central District of California; Southern District of Florida; District of Kansas; Eastern District of Missouri; District of New Mexico; Western District of North Carolina; and the Eastern District of Texas. A temporary judgeship in the District of Hawaii, whose authorization had lapsed in 2016, also was extended.

Related Topics: Funding