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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Prosecutor Laments Sequestration ‘Lunacy’

MANHATTAN (CN) - U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara let loose his frustration about sequestration "lunacy" that prevents him from replacing prosecutors who leave their jobs or retire.

The typically even-keel chief Manhattan prosecutor made the comment after his prepared remarks before the Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts, which convened on Monday at the New York County Lawyer's Association's (NYCLA) headquarters in Tribeca.

"I meant to say 'alleged' lunacy," Bharara quipped, after one of the co-chairs of the event, Michael Miller, called attention to his comment during the question-and-answer phase of the event.

Bharara's formal remarks earlier in the afternoon detailed the "raw numbers" about attrition in his office. He said it currently employs 210 prosecutors, nearly 20 fewer than it had two years ago. That breaks down into a 13 percent vacancy rate for prosecutors and 26 percent vacancy rate for staff, which he said sets a record for U.S. attorneys' offices nationwide.

"In other words, unless something changes, our office will simply get smaller and smaller every year," Bharara's statement read. "We will have no new AUSAs to replace senior ones who leave, and we will have no AUSAs to staff the office's junior units that have traditionally been staffed by new arrivals. By January 2015, a quarter of our office's allotted prosecutor positions will be vacant for lack of funding."

Bharara called such bloodletting particularly unfathomable because his team's civil prosecutions have generated far more money for the government than his office requires to function. He calculated that last month's $1.2 billion settlement with SAC Capital is 24 times larger than office's annual budget of $50 million.

Judge Robert Katzmann, the chief of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, began his remarks by warning that budget shortfalls were "nearing crisis proportions" if Congress did not take action in a January appropriations bill. He said that this was exemplified by an anecdote of a Connecticut public defender forced to take a triple-homicide case despite his suffering from the side effects of multiple myeloma.

As for the appellate court, Katzmann said the court lost more than a tenth of its staff at the same time that filings fell by only roughly 2 percent.

"We don't choose a caseload," he said. "The cases come to us."

Barbara Moses, the president of NYCLA, suggested that the cuts could have a broader impact by diminishing the U.S. judiciary's reputation as a desirable venue for international arbitration.

Agreeing that this was "a very serious concern," Katzmann said that a "slow and steady erosion is inevitable in terms of how the courts are viewed by the legal profession."

Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York said that cuts to the clerk's office could delay the public docketing of cases. She noted that her federal court had heard cases that impacted a mayoral race, and that an opinion issued 19 days before an election needed quick dissemination for campaign financing.

Only 60 percent of civil filings enjoy same-day docketing today, however, Preska said. Only two years ago, more than 95 percent went up immediately, she added.

At the probation office, substance-abuse-treatment funding was cut by 43 percent, location monitoring lost nearly a quarter of its budget, and mental-health-treatment resources went down by 7 percent, she said.

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