I-Team: Nation's judges say federal budget cuts risk public safety

August 16, 2013 (CHICAGO)

READ: Letter to congressional leaders from chief federal judges

In an unusual and rare public criticism of one of the other branches of government, Castillo is among those who have blasted Congress for cutting its funding.

There was no trial or witnesses but the verdict is in Friday night, and nearly all of the nation's chief federal judges say Congress is guilty of nearly starving the United States court system and endangering the public.

But Friday night, the recently-sworn in Castillo is among 87 top district judges who sent this letter to congressional leaders, citing grave concerns over possible new government budget cuts.

Castillo and other judges saying they've already had to "slash our operations to the bone" and that "cuts have created an unprecedented financial crisis, adversely affecting all facets of court operations."

"Funding cuts to the judiciary have… put public safety at risk... and a second year under sequestration will have a devastating, and long lasting, impact on the administration of justice in this country."

Chicago administers more justice than almost anywhere in the United States. On average, 50 new cases are filed here every work day-nearly 13,000 a year. There are 22 district judgeships and all seated judges have full caseloads.

But according to chief federal judges, court support staffing is at its lowest since 1999, despite many more cases being filed.

And that they say is resulting in less crime deterrence and detection; a lack of response to criminal activity and more illegal weapons and drugs menacing the public.

The I-Team reported in December that sequester cuts might force federal furloughs and the closing of the Dirksen courthouse every Wednesday.

"With an 18 percent cutback, which is one of the proposals on the table right now, we do not make salaries, and we would be forced to take many furlough days," Thomas Bruton, Northern District of Illinois Clerk of the Court said on Dec. 19, 2012.

That didn't happen then, but the red flag is being unfurled and forced shutdowns could happen judges say if Congress doesn't increase judiciary spending when it returns next month.

Congress has to cut some kind of spending deal in September before the next fiscal year starts October 1.

A bill that cleared House and Senate committees includes a slight increase in the judiciary budget, but there is no guarantee that will actually pass.

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