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Judiciary Seeks Funding, Legislative Changes to Aid COVID-19 Response

The Judiciary has asked Congress for $36.6 million in supplemental funding, as well as several legislative reforms designed to help federal courts respond effectively to the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency.

In an April 28 letter sent to leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the Judiciary identified $64.1 million in funding requirements needed to address and recover from the pandemic. However, $27.5 million of those needs can be met through available Judiciary funding balances and projected savings from canceled travel and conferences.

“The $36.6 million we are seeking is to address emergent needs such as enhanced cleaning of court facilities, health screening at courthouse entrances, information technology hardware and infrastructure costs associated with expanded telework and videoconferencing,” said the letter, signed by Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judiciary’s Budget Committee, and James C. Duff, secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Money also is being sought for “costs associated with probation and pretrial services supervision of offenders released from prison and defendants on pretrial release, and security related costs,” they wrote.

In addition to funding, the Judiciary also submitted a package of legislative proposals to address immediate COVID-19 impacts on the federal courts, as well as to address concerns regarding court operations after the pandemic eases.  “The underlying objective behind each proposal is to ensure that the federal Judiciary continues to meet its constitutional mandate while protecting the health and safety of court personnel, litigants, and the public,” the letter added. These requested provisions include:

  • A number of proposals intended to protect detainees in criminal cases and litigants during the COVID-19 crisis, such as expediting compassionate release procedures under the First Step Act, reducing unnecessary pretrial detention of certain low-risk defendants, and allowing probation officers to focus on higher risk offenders instead of low-risk compassionate release offenders. 
  • Ensuring the adequacy of critical judicial resources by converting temporary judgeships to permanent status and requesting a limited number of new judgeships to meet anticipated caseload increases.
  • Requesting temporary authority for the bankruptcy courts to extend or “toll” certain statutory deadlines under the Bankruptcy Code.

“Like other institutions throughout the world, the operations of the federal courts have been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “Most Judiciary personnel nationwide are teleworking, grand jury proceedings and jury trials have been postponed, civil litigation has significantly slowed, courts are using video and teleconferencing technology for proceedings in criminal cases and for other court matters to the extent practicable, and probation and pretrial services officers are using new and innovative approaches to supervise remotely offenders released from prison and defendants awaiting trial.”