Connecticut’s federal courts running on financial fumes

Washington – Connecticut’s federal courts have been limping along during the shutdown by using money collected for court fees and leftover funds from other small accounts.

But that will end next week unless talks between congressional Republicans and the White House bear fruit soon.

On Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut posted an advisory on its website that said money to operate the courts will run out Oct. 17.

The advisory said the court “has severely restricted spending.”

“Spending rates and fund balances will continue to be monitored closely in hope that adequate funds may be available to allow courts to operate through the end of the work week,” the advisory said.

According to a Department of Justice memo, U.S. attorneys across the country have been directed to “curtail or postpone” civil litigation “to the extent that this can be done without compromising . . . the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

But the Justice Department has determined criminal litigation must continue without interruption, a consequence of the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Judge Janet Hall, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut in New Haven and is the spokeswoman for the court, did not respond to numerous emails and phone calls requesting details of how the shutdown would affect the court system.

The advisory posted by her court, however, said jurors may have to wait until the federal government returns to work to receive payment.

“Payments to jurors will be made as long as funds are available,” the advisory said. “If funds are not available, courts may continue to call jurors and assure them that they will be paid, although the payment may be delayed.”

And judges and court personnel will stop receiving paychecks if the shutdown continues past the end of next week, said David Sellers, spokesman for the Judicial Conference of the United States. Some will stay on the job, some will be sent home.

“Each federal court is going through a process of determining which services are essential and what people are needed to support those functions,” he said.

Terence Ward, head of the office of public defenders for Connecticut’s federal courts, said paychecks will stop for the six trial lawyers and 10 support personnel working in his office at the end of next week. But he said people in the public defenders’ office will probably all stay on the job.

“I can’t see how I can send anybody home,” Ward said. “I don’t think anybody can be declared unessential.”

But a disruption in pay will sting, he said. “I’m sure mortgage companies don’t want to hear ‘I’ll pay you in a couple of months.’”

Senate Republicans met with President Obama at the White House Friday to discuss the twin crisis in Washington — the government shutdown and the need to raise the debt ceiling next week.

But although talks between the GOP and the White House entered their second day, there has been no concrete agreement.

A deal under consideration Friday would allow the federal government to reopen for several weeks at current spending levels to allow time for talks on a longer-term budget. But the debt ceiling would not be lifted unless there’s agreement on a broad budget framework that could include tax reform and cuts to entitlement programs.

 

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