(CN) - Federal budget cuts will slice $350 million from the judiciary budget, spelling case delays, reduced security and less public access to lawyers, a panel warned Wednesday.
Judge Julia Gibbons, a member of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit, announced the results at a biennial meeting in Washington of the Judicial Conference, a 26-jurist policy-making body. The third branch of government faces a "budget crisis that is unprecedented, one that is not likely to end in the near term," Gibbons said, according to an announcement of the findings.
When Capitol Hill failed to agree on a budget before the March 1 deadline, the automatic cuts known as the sequester were not instantaneous, but were reportedly rolled out as government agencies learned of the obligatory reductions.
In assessing its future impact, the judiciary projected that it would lose one-fifth of its budget for drug testing and mental health treatment. It also expects diminished availability of probation officers to supervise people released from prison.
Court safety would suffer from 30 percent funding cuts, which would reduce the hours of security officers, the judges said.
The panel concluded that fewer federal defenders would be available to serve the public; that civil and bankruptcy cases could face "significant delays;" and that there would be "deep cuts" to the information technology programs essential for daily case processing.
But the judges gave no specific information about these effects.
The Judicial Conference has long complained about continual funding reductions from the Legislature, even as caseloads increase.
"Since the last comprehensive judgeship bill was enacted more than 20 years ago, the number of cases filed in the U.S. courts of appeals increased by 34 percent and the number of cases filed in the district courts increased by 39 percent - civil filings grew by 32 percent and criminal filings by 67 percent," it said in a statement.
Last year, more than 1,800 court employees were laid off, representing a 9 percent decline in staff.
Sequestration could mean pink slips for up to 2,000 more employees, or they could face furloughs equal to a 10 percent pay cut.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.