Courts Blame Furloughs on Budget Sequestration

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Budget sequestrations will force federal courts in Northern California to furlough employees one day a month beginning in May, the courts said.
     The San Francisco, San Jose and Eureka Federal Courts will shut down on the first Friday of each month, and Oakland Federal will close the first Monday of the month.
     The courts cited “budget reductions caused by sequestration” as the reason for the furloughs. Sequestration reduced funding for the federal judiciary by almost $350 million – a 5 percent cut, the Northern District of California federal courts said in a statement.     
     Court personnel told Courthouse News that the courts will make a transition to mandatory e-filing of new cases, beginning with a pilot program this spring. The Northern District of California already requires e-filing for most documents but case-origination filings had been excluded from the rule.
     The courts have not yet officially announced changes to e-filing. Electronic case filing will be available on furlough days.
     Judge Julia Gibbons, who chaired the federal Judicial Conference Budget Committee, said that sequestration put the judiciary in “uncharted territory,” facing a “budget crisis that is unprecedented, one that is not likely to end in the near term.”
     “We believe we have done all we can to minimize the impact of sequestration, but a cut of this magnitude, particularly so late in the fiscal year, will affect every aspect of court operations,” Gibbons said in a statement.
     Sequestration hits the judiciary particularly hard because its budget is so heavily driven by people, whether it’s the cost of judges and court staff and the space needed to work, the cost of defense attorneys, jurors and the courtrooms they occupy and court security officers and their equipment.
     Each court will decide how to implement many of the funding cuts. The courts say the cuts could come in the form of up to 2,000 layoffs or furloughs of one day per pay period, which would represent a 10 percent pay cut.
     “Reductions of this magnitude strike at the heart of our entire system of justice and spread throughout the country,” Gibbons told the Judicial Conference this month. “The longer the sequestration stays in place, the more severe will be its impact on the courts and those who use them.
     “These actions are unsustainable, difficult, and painful to implement. Indeed, the Judiciary cannot continue to operate at sequestration funding levels without seriously compromising the constitutional mission of the federal courts.”
     The federal courthouses will remain open on furlough days. New filings can be put in drop boxes at the courts and will be considered filed on the day they are put in the drop box.
     Urgent matters at furloughed locations that cannot wait until the next court day should be brought to an open location.
     Hearings that fall on furlough days will be rescheduled.
     Judges will decide individually if court-imposed deadlines that fall on furlough days will be postponed until the next business day.

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