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3rd Circuit Saves Money|by Sharing Offices

(CN) - The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals will save $250,000 in annual rent by squeezing new and visiting judges into its old offices.

The appeals court adopted the "innovative redesign" after four judges approached seniority and the court grappled with how to make room for new judges, according the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts newsletter, The Third Branch News.

Two circuit judges and three senior appeals judges occupy five of the court's nine chambers. Two seats are vacant.

Rather than build new chambers in a building next to the James A. Byrne Courthouse in Philadelphia, the 3rd Circuit decided to reconfigure three chambers in the 22-story building, each one to house four smaller offices for out-of-town judges.

Seventeen visiting judges will share the offices.

The 3rd Circuit's plan is a local initiative, but space reduction is a priority for all courts as the judiciary wrestles with across-the-board sequestration cuts.

After the 2011 debt ceiling showdown, the $85 billion sequester was sold as a stopgap measure. The court system had to cope with $350 million in budget cuts.

The Judicial Conference said it aims to cut federal court space by 3 percent by the end of Fiscal Year 2018.

"In FY 14, unless we receive relief from Congress, the judiciary will lack the funds to pay its entire rental bill to the General Services Administration. Things are that dire," U.S. District Judge Brooks Smith told The Third Branch News.

He added: "I am delighted with the design, which will provide adequate and comfortable space for my staff and me to do our jobs while on the road."

The idea to share chambers came from a visiting judge who said in an "offhanded way" that he had more than enough space to work in, 3rd Circuit Court Executive Margaret Wiegand told the newsletter.

"That began a flurry of brainstorming, rethinking and reconfiguring how we house non-resident judges," Wiegand said. She hoped the redesign "will take care of all our space needs for the foreseeable future."

Judge Smith cautioned against a "one-size-fits-all" approach to saving on rent and reducing space, but said he hoped that other courts would follow the 3rd Circuit's lead.

"The Space and Facilities Committee will be looking to every circuit and every district for ideas," Smith said. "Innovation is going to result from a combination of ideas that come from local courts and a cooperative spirit that recognizes that the entire federal judicial family must face the challenge of space reduction together."

The 3rd Circuit's initiative comes after federal courts in October announced a program to give up space in 31 court offices for $1.7 million in annual savings. The courts handed back to the General Services Administration 6 6,341 square-feet in offices deemed surplus to requirements.

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