A committee of judges tasked with deciding how the federal judiciary spends its money said last month that federal defenders wouldn’t face more than 15 furlough days under mandatory budget cuts. Less than a month later, the committee alerted defender offices it had raised the maximum furlough time to 20 days, reports Legal Times. A May 10 memo from Judge William Traxler Jr., chairman of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the committee reconsidered its April decision after getting new information on how defender offices were coping with the cuts, also known as sequestration.
The new plan meant lawyers and staff in the Washington, D.C., federal public defender office faced a month of mandatory unpaid leave—20 work days—as opposed to three weeks. The change was preferable to the 27 furlough days the office first faced under sequestration. Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer said, “Obviously it’s bad for morale. People are trying to get the work done while being on furlough, while their pay has been lowered. It’s very difficult to take care of matters that deal with clients when you’re not in the office.” He said furloughs were affecting cases in terms of scheduling, but not in substantive ways so far. Cuts could have more serious consequences if the office ran out of money to hire experts or for other services, or couldn’t take cases for lack of resources and people.