Furloughs of federal court employees are off the table in the Southern District, and postponed at least until April in the Eastern District, as court officials struggle to mitigate the damage of budget cuts that went into effect on Friday.
Officials in both the Southern and Eastern districts say they are stretching their non-salary budgets to the limit after having left vacated positions unfilled in advance of the "sequester"the $85 billion in "automatic" budget cuts accepted by both political parties in an effort to force negotiations for a broader deal on deficit reduction.
On the morning of March 1, Southern District Chief Judge Loretta Preska (See Profile) and District Executive Edward Friedland held a townhall meeting with more than 130 employees in the ceremonial courtroom at 500 Pearl St. Other employees watched via live feed from the courthouse at the Woolworth Building, where probation and pretrial services are housed, and the courthouse in White Plains.
Friedland said it was an emotional meeting, as anxious employees fearing as many as 12 unpaid days before Sept. 30 were relieved to hear the good news. If the situation doesn't change, court officials are hopeful they can complete the year without those cuts.
Some workers, he said, were in tears at the end of the meeting, with a few coming forward to hug Preska.
"A lot of them are living paycheck to paycheck and losing 12 more days would have had a significant impact on them," he said. "The mean salary for employees in the Southern District is actually lower than the national average and it's the lowest in the Second Circuit. Keep in mind, their health care premiums have gone up, the MTA raised the fare again, and [furloughs] really would have completed the bad news."
In Brooklyn, Chief Judge Carol Amon (See Profile) and Clerk of Court Douglas Palmer have been meeting with their department heads and bracing their employees for the sequester. Non-salary budgets, already cut 10 percent this year, are being squeezed to avoid furloughs, at least for now.
"We are not making immediate decisions about anything, and we're not making any decisions on furloughs," Amon said.
Instead, like their counterparts in the Southern District, the Eastern District is trying to get along with far fewer personnelinterpreters, pretrial services and probation workers, and workers in the clerks' office.
The clerk's office, Palmer said, had 172 employees in 2006. That number is now down to 130. The number of new filings in the district increased to 7,963 last year from 6,951 in 2008.