NYCLA Sounds Alarm on Dire State of U.S. Judiciary Budget
With crucial funding decisions nearing in Congress as the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year approaches, the New York County Lawyers' Association is trying to raise awareness about what it calls the dire state of the federal judiciary budget.
NYCLA's Taskforce on Judicial Budget Cuts has released a report saying that reductions in funding for the Southern and Eastern districts are now really hitting home, threatening to imperil the functioning of the judiciary and public safety.
NYCLA president Barbara Moses, counsel at Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, said Monday that, with New York's congressional delegation already squarely behind increasing the judiciary's budget after years of cuts, the report is intended to reach members of Congress outside of New York—each of whom will be receiving a copy.
"There seems to be a lot of congressmen and senators out there who are silent on the issue," Moses said. "I would say our audience is in part those senators and congressmen who are in a position to do the right thing here—those who are on the relevant committees and subcommittees who could perhaps use some additional information."
The report, which has been approved by NYCLA's executive committee, follows public hearings two years ago that produced warnings that continued cuts were threatening judicial independence and the rule of law.
"Despite our warnings and those of other bar associations, public interest groups, judges, attorneys and journalists, the budget cuts have continued and the situation has become increasingly perilous," the report states.
"For me the biggest difference between now and two or three years ago, is that there seems to have been a corrosive effect on the morale of the judges and the courthouse staff," Vincent Chang, a partner at Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch, lead author of the report, said in an interview. "At first we thought this might blow over, but now that optimism no longer exists. There really is the sense that we are on the brink of a constitutional crisis if this is not reversed—and it might not be reversed."
Michael McNamara, a partner at Seward & Kissel who is also one of the report's author, shares the same concern.
"I agree the impact on morale is palpable," McNamara said. "When you talk to the judges and people who work in the courthouse, there's a profound sense that they have run out of budget tricks—they've been dealing with this by moving things around and not making certain improvements, but their ability to do that any more has been eliminated."
The report urges Congress, which has been funding the courts by continuing resolutions and—this year employing the "sequester" to impose even more reductions—to "restore the federal judicial budget to levels where the courts are able to effectively and efficiently meet their constitutional mandates and to reject continued sequestration and other possible budget cuts that are threatened in the upcoming fiscal years."