While Congressional members pat themselves on the back for fending off sequester budget cuts that threatened to delay their flights outs of Washington last week, federal courts in California are bending to fiscal reality and scaling back their operations.
Federal courts in the Bay Area announced that for the first time in decades they will close one day a month to cover a $350 million shortfall caused by the congressional budget stalemate.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the largest in the nation, also plans to close on a series of Fridays through the end of August and “drastically” reduce staff. Its four courthouses serve 18 million people in Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties. The courthouses will be open on closure days but the clerk’s office will not be being doing business except for emergency civil filings and criminal intake.
The furloughs and curtailed court hours will impact trials and services in myriad ways, forcing delays in case resolutions and restricting access by the public. Sequestration will also affect federal public defenders, probation officers, funding for drug testing and mental health treatment. Payments to private attorneys who are appointed under the Criminal Justice Act will be delayed.
Sequester, an austerity program of unprecedented stupidity, was launched by Congress on March 1. It was agreed to by Democrats and Republicans as a way out of a deficit fight and indiscriminately hacks $85 billion in vital government funding and services.
When sequester forced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to furlough air traffic controllers, resulting in airport delays, Congress immediately acted to shift money around and quickly return the situation to normal.
Life will be anything but normal for the 70,000 children who are being dropped from Head Start, or the thousands of poor, elderly people who are losing their Meals on Wheels. Tens of thousands of long-term unemployed are losing their benefits, food safety inspections are being cut back and civilian workers at federal military bases are getting whacked.
But at least congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who profess to care deeply about the pain and suffering they are causing nationwide, will be able to comfortably jet around the country to check on how their constituents are holding up under the onslaught.