Federal Court Personnel Welcome New Budget

, The National Law Journal

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WASHINGTON - Congress gave final approval last week to a budget deal that offers some relief to the federal judiciary after last year's budget cuts.

A bipartisan appropriations bill that passed both the House and the Senate will provide the federal courts an increase of $316 million in discretionary spending—or 5 percent above current funding—for the 2014 fiscal year, according to a summary of the 1,582-page bill from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

That will almost erase the $350 million in cuts to the judiciary in March as part of sequestration, which has caused almost a year of layoffs and furloughs in the federal courts and threatened the judiciary's ability to pay court-appointed private counsel in criminal cases.

The appropriation sets funding for U.S. Supreme Court salaries and court operations such as courthouse security, the cost of court operations for other federal court operations including Federal Defender organizations.

Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said in a written statement Tuesday the judiciary is "pleased" with the funding, which is essentially the level the courts sought in December.

The executive committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference will meet next month to determine how the appropriated funds will be used, Redmond said.

"We're cautiously optimistic," said Eastern District Clerk of Court Douglas Palmer.

In fiscal year 2012, the Eastern District's expenses outpaced its $16 million allotment from the Judicial Conference by $2 million, Palmer said. Last year, the district's deficit after a $14 million allotment was $1.7 million.

Palmer said the district has done "a lot" of trimming, including leaving 29 positions unfilled, eliminating almost all money for building maintenance and not replacing information technology equipment.

All the cuts have had a "real effect," Palmer said. For one thing, they have been stressful for staff who were "forced to take on multiple tasks that used to be left to specialists."

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