D.C. Court Funding Holds Steady in Budget Deal

, Legal Times

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Eric Washington, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Eric Washington, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

The congressional budget deal announced late Monday would restore to the District of Columbia local court system money that was cut under last year's sequester, but the agreement provides less funding than court officials wanted.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 included $232.8 million for operations and capital projects. The court system's pre-sequestration budget for operations and capital projects in fiscal year 2013 was $232.4 million.

The D.C. court system, along with other federally funded agencies, was forced to cut its budget by five percent last year under mandatory cuts known as sequestration. The court system absorbed the approximately $12 million in cuts by scaling back on planned construction and maintenance services, and training employees to do other work due to a hiring freeze.

"We are pleased to hear that an agreement has been reached on a full-year appropriation that would allow the Courts to plan for the remainder of the year, address our strategic goals, and enhance activities designed to serve the people of the D.C. community," Chief Judge Eric Washington of the D.C. Court of Appeals said in a statement.

The court system's defender services budget, which funds court-appointed lawyers, went down at the request of court officials (the Public Defender Services for the District of Columbia receives separate federal funding.) The pre-sequester budget for defender services was $55 million. Court officials requested and received $49.8 million for fiscal year 2014.

The number of new criminal cases in the District of Columbia Superior Court steadily dropped in recent years. The most recent court data shows new cases dropped by nearly 12 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 23,023 to 20,308. Court officials have also taken steps to control defender services costs, including staggering calendars so lawyers spend less time waiting in court and adopting flat fees for certain types of work.

The $232.8 million appropriation for operations and capital projects is $100 million less than court officials requested for fiscal year 2014. The biggest gap was in capital projects funding. Officials asked for $132 million for capital projects, in large part to fund an expansion of the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse, but the proposed budget allocated only $35.3 million.

The D.C. Public Defender Service would receive $40.6 million, up from the office's pre-sequester funding of $37 million for fiscal year 2013. The office faced nearly $2 million in cuts due to the sequester.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia would receive $226.4 million, up from the agency's pre-sequester budget of around $214 million. The agency dealt with approximately $11 million in cuts under sequestration.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the court system's final fiscal year 2013 appropriation.

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