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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Federal budget cuts cost Kansas federal courthouses, prosecutors, defenders more than $750,000

March 15, 2013

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Budget problems are nothing new for Kansas courthouses, where state and county courts have had to close their doors at times when money ran out. But this year, the pinch is being felt in the federal courts.

The automatic, across-the-board budget cuts, commonly known as “the sequester," that took affect Friday will cost the federal courts in Kansas hundreds of thousands of dollars this year, not counting cuts to federal prosecutors and public defenders. That means some criminal cases in Kansas won’t be prosecuted this year, and Kansans facing federal charges will have to wait longer to see a court-appointed lawyer, according to a statement Monday from Judge Julia Gibbons, budget committee chairwoman for the U.S. Judicial Conference, which governs the U.S. Courts.

The three federal courthouses in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, Kan., will lose $750,000 in the sequester this year, which is 14 percent of their budget, said Tim O’Brien, the court clerk in Topeka. Court staff are still working out how to minimize the effect on the public by spending less on things like office supplies, but most of the court’s budget goes to employee salaries.

“It’s a fairly dramatic cut,” O’Brien said. “Chopping off a large percentage really does have an effect on us.”

Douglas County courts won’t lose any money immediately, since they don’t receive regular federal funding, said Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild. But there may be an indirect effect.

“To the extent that the sequester affects funding received by the state and county, we could suffer from the trickle down,” Fairchild said.

The Douglas County court has been unsuccessful in past applications for a federal grant to support a domestic violence court, Fairchild said, and a tightening of federal budgets won’t help its chances in the immediate future.

At the same time, federal prosecutors and public defenders in Kansas and elsewhere have been warned of budget cuts, furloughs and delays in pay. They are funded separately from the Kansas courthouses, by the Department of Justice and the federal judiciary, and exact figures for cuts to their budgets in Kansas aren’t available yet, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Those cuts will be spread across individual districts over time, but they will all likely be affected as funding to federal prosecutors in general is cut by $100 million, and furloughs are expected across the department starting April 21. At least 1,000 criminal cases won’t be prosecuted this year, the department said, and 1,600 civil cases won’t be handled.

The Kansas Federal Public Defender Office in Wichita did not return calls for comment on the cuts, but the judicial conference's statement said people charged with federal crimes in all the nation’s districts may find it harder to defend themselves. The Kansas office may have fewer attorneys available, which could mean delays in appointing defense attorneys. And those lawyers may have to wait for several weeks to be paid.

Federal courts in Kansas are in better shape to weather the sequester than are some other agencies, O’Brien said. There are no plans to furlough courthouse employees, and most people visiting the courts may not see the difference immediately.

“For the most part, we believe that we’ll be able to survive this,” he said. “We’re hoping that Congress will reach some kind of agreement.”

Comments

toe 1 year, 9 months ago

Reductions are good. Now if we can just get the $750.000 to $7.5 million.

KansasLiberal 1 year, 9 months ago

How about we just quit spending money on war? Did you know that Congress regularly orders more planes and ships than the military asks for? There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars to be saved by cutting from the military, but nobody ever wants to talk about those.

Pepe 1 year, 9 months ago

The military is bearing the biggest brunt of the sequestration cuts.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 9 months ago

KSLib - I agree with you. What could we have done for the US with all the billions wasted in Afghanistan and Iraq? Our debt would not be so great if we didn't nation build in those countries.

Liberty275 1 year, 9 months ago

Write a letter to Obama and ask why he doesn't surrender all the wars we are involved with and bring our brave men and women home.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 9 months ago

And, in other, more urgent news, the $750,000 is just a drop in the bucket when compared to what Sam and the Gang are costing Kansas.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 9 months ago

Congress bears a lot of the blame but so does the president. It was his idea and if he didn't demand tax increases the sequester might have been avoided. Tax increases were just given and were not part of the original sequestration deal so Obama changed the rules and bears as much responsibility for it happening as congress.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

Sequestration was offered only because Congressional Republicans were threatening to take the entire world economy over the fiscal cliff-- i.e., they were willing to don financial suicide vests in order to get their way.

That said, Obama has played his hand very poorly, and that's why Republicans have got away with the idiocy of triggering the sequestration. That might backfire on them, but they given they are bereft of any workable ideas for anything (well, class warfare has worked out pretty well for their one true plutocratic constituency) they don't have anything to lose.

Fred Mertz 1 year, 9 months ago

Why didn't Obama offer up different cuts to avoid the sequestration instead of demanding more tax increases just after taxes were raised? Had he offered up cuts instead of more tax increases maybe sequestration could have been avoided?

I blame Congress and the president for the mess our country is in.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

"Why didn't Obama offer up different cuts"

You mean cuts in SS, medicare, medicaid and programs such as foodstamps-- pile it on those at the bottom so the wealthy don't have to pay a bit additional in taxes, after which they'd still be wealthy?

Fred Mertz 1 year, 9 months ago

Nope not what I meant at all. Meant just what I said, why didn't he offer up a package of cuts - any cuts instead of a tax increase after already getting one.

I know it is hard to admit that Obama might share in any of the blame.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

"I know it is hard to admit that Obama might share in any of the blame."

I never said he didn't. But the blame lies in his compromising with Republicans upfront, despite their proven track record that if you give them a half mile, they'll want a light-year.

rtwngr 1 year, 9 months ago

Yes, he has played his hand poorly because the general public, meaning the low information voter, is now beginning to catch on that this president is not interested in the greatness of America. He wants to tear it down and make it into a France or Italy where big government is the order of the day. I don't want to be western Europe and neither do most people so except for you.

elliottaw 1 year, 9 months ago

wow you need to turn off fox news and look up some actually facts

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

Courts, schmourts, who needs them? Summary execution is all we really need. If it's good enough for Somalia, it's good enough for the US.

Larry Sturm 1 year, 9 months ago

Congress needs to have their pay cut right along with everything else. I hope they are proud of themselfs.

Thinking_Out_Loud 1 year, 9 months ago

That cannot happen, Laredo. The 27th Amendment prevents any change in Congressional pay (raise or cut) until after the next election for Representatives. Their pay cannot be cut under our Constitution.

Kontum1972 1 year, 9 months ago

so how much do prosecutors make a year....that's the key....!

Kontum1972 1 year, 9 months ago

well i am sure the prosecutors and lawyers do not have to worry about the money....nor the judge's....compared too the rest of us....call me a liar!

voevoda 1 year, 9 months ago

Well, Kontum1972, you'll need to eat your words. Federal prosecutors' salaries start at $42,000 per year. The sequestration will result in a 20% pay cut. That results in a salary of $33,600 per year. Think about supporting a family and repaying educational loans on that salary, Kontum.

voevoda 1 year, 9 months ago

The average salary isn't more indicative for the federal prosecutors who are earning the starting wage.

And overall, government employees get paid less than their equally-educated and equally-employed counterparts in the private sector. Compare the federal prosecutor with the corporate litigator: they start at $50,000.

Kontum1972 1 year, 9 months ago

when i was in china ....walking..thru the factory i was going to buy.....none of the workers looked up at me....the reply from the escort.....to Mitt....it is forbidden!.....and you wanted this clown to be President.....? an guy who wears a wingtip hair cut is really not in sync...with it all....47%.....Lincoln is rolling over in his grave...

Alceste 1 year, 9 months ago

Of course the Federal judges in their FOR LIFE gigs, coupled with their cushy, laid back, stress free subsidized life style FOR LIFE will feel none of the sting and continue to get PHAT off the back of the working people of America...... tsk, tsk....

LadyJ 1 year, 9 months ago

Cut the lifetime benefits for elected congressmen/women. What will happen in the federal courts does not scare me as much as the cuts forcing air traffic control towers having to shut down or only staffed during the day.

voevoda 1 year, 9 months ago

Kansas can make up some of the deficit in funding for Federal courts by not creating more work for them with idiotic, unconstitutional laws that will need to be examined in Federal court.

bballwizard 1 year, 9 months ago

It's going to Be painful but the cuts have to happen. We don't need anymore debt period. People are going to lose jobs.

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