Congress is herewith warned

I just received notice that the Federal Public Defender for the District of Nebraska furloughed his staff and closed his office on Friday, April 19, 2013 and he plans to furlough and close his office on 10 additional days.  Here is the missive received today from our Clerk’s office:



The Nebraska Judicial Council directs all courtroom deputies and judicial assistants to avoid scheduling any trial and hearings involving the Nebraska Federal Public Defender’s Office on the following dates1:
May 3 May 17 May 24 June 14 June 28 July 5 July 19 August 2 August 16 August 30
The Nebraska Federal Public Defender’s Office staff will be furloughed on these dates, and the Defender’s Omaha and Lincoln offices will be closed. In the event the U.S. Attorney’s Office is required to furlough its staff, the same date(s) will be used.

1.  The only exception to this directive is when the assigned judge specifically requires the hearing or trial to be held.

While I intend to honor this directive, I am also contemplating the dismissal of a certain percentage of criminal cases assigned to the FPD.   If I dismiss a bunch of immigration cases, where a short prison sentence would otherwise be imposed and the defendants will be deported anyway, perhaps I can assist the FPD in meeting his statutory and constitutional obligations.  I have not finally decided on this course of action, but I am seriously contemplating it.

Congress is therefore on notice that its failure to fund the judiciary, and most particularly the Federal Public Defenders and Criminal Justice Act counsel, may result in the guilty going unpunished.  If a banana republic is what members of Congress want, I may help them get it.


5 responses

  1. Here, here! I’ll never forget when I was a law clerk a few yeas ago in the face of the threatened governmental shutdown due to the debt-ceiling debacle. Many federal-agency lawyers moved the judges to reschedule oral arguments just a few (3-5) days beforehand.

    If any other litigant ever tried to pull that type of stunt for an oral argument that had been scheduled for months, I’m quite sure the result would have not been very accommodating. Why should the government be treated with kid gloves when our elected officials know full well that it will result in justice delayed (which according to Gladstone is necessarily justice denied)?

  2. When I worked for an insolvent employer (who was a lot less in the red than the U.S. government), our pay was cut 20% and we worked the same hours. More, actually, because 70% of our coworkers were laid off to save money.

    That employer survived, by the way, and is now 141 years old.

    Contrasted to the private sector, Federal workers are overpaid and have way too many benefits

  3. Dear Mr. Overtree,

    Thank you for your comment. I understand your point. In many repects, I agree with you.

    However, as contrasted with Federal Public Defenders, your employer did not have the ethical, statutory and constitutional obligation to defend people who are charged with crimes such as the fellow in Boston who is facing the death penalty. The FPDs and their assistants are being placed in an impossible situation by virtue of the budget problems and peoples lives are literally at stake. I hope that fair-minded people such as yourself see the difference.

    All the best.


  4. Mr. Overtree, I think you’ll find that federal government lawyers are generally underpaid compared to their private-sector colleagues of equivalent education and experience.

    Also, as Judge Kopf suggests, a public employer is limited by its legal obligations. A private sector employer has the option of reducing output to make up for lost productivity. The only way for a federal public defender to reduce output is to defend fewer defendants–which is exactly the problem that the Judge is addressing.

  5. Pingback: Federal judge considers ways to cut public defender caseloads in response to budget cuts | Public Defender Stuff

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