The bankruptcy court is also under pressure in the Southern District, Preska warned, and further cuts could lead to a slower adjudication that could prevent a company from getting on its feet quickly and, thus, cost people jobs.
The legal community is alarmed about the impact of further cuts in the system. Two weeks ago, the American Bar Association passed a resolution calling on the president and Congress to adequately fund the courts and legal assistance to the poor.
Seymour James, president of the New York State Bar Association, presented the resolution, warning of "the devastating impact proposed cuts will have on federal courts and the Legal Services Corporation."
James also expressed a concern shared by Amon and Preskathat the cuts would disproportionately affect civil cases and that shorter courthouse hours would lead to prolonged delays in civil trials. Same-day docketing on the electronic case filing system would fall by the wayside.
In the criminal realm, in addition to probation and pretrial services, criminal trials and procedure will be slowed. Amon expressed concern that shortfalls could impact the number of interpreters so often needed in large, multi-defendant criminal trials.
David Patton, Executive Director of Federal Defenders of New York, said he is waiting to hear the news from the Administrative Office, which supplies the funding for the 39 attorneys and 39 staff who work in the Eastern and Southern Districts.
"Even in the good case scenarios, we're going to be extremely tight," Patton said. "And in the worst case scenarios, we're going to be very short of what we need."
Northern, Western Districts
The Northern District, because of a hiring freeze and strict spending constraints over the past two years, is well-situated to weather the sequester through the summer and probably autumn. But if it goes any longer, court employees can expect furloughs and attorneys and litigants can anticipate canceled civil trials, according to Chief Judge Gary Sharpe (See Profile).
"We have to anticipate the impact of the sequestration on the budget because if the money is cut you can't turn around and say to people the following day, 'Sorry, but we've got to furlough you,'" Sharpe said. "You've got to be fair to your people and let them know what the impact is."
Sharpe said expenditures on hardware and other non-personnel budget lines have been frozen and vacancies have generally gone unfilled the past two years. He said the Northern District's support staff is down about 10 positions, to roughly 60.
"Because we anticipated this in the Northern District, because we didn't back fill a number of spots where people retired or moved on in the last two years, we anticipate that when the sequester hits, if it hits, we will continue to function at least through the summer and fall because we have been able to shift money from other accounts into the personnel account to take care of people," Sharpe said. "The courts can't operate without people."