Years ago, I had the privilege of drafting the plan that created the Federal Public Defender for the District of Nebraska. Thus, it was, with utter despair, that I learned yesterday that the FPD for Nebraska will let go his senior criminal investigator (who is located in Lincoln) because of the dire budget situation.
The investigator, with 18 years of service to the FPD and additional years of service before that as a lieutenant in a metropolitan police department, is among the best and brightest. He is the epitome of integrity, professionalism and just plain common decency. He is universally liked and respected by everyone including his former law enforcement colleagues.
Because federal defenders are part of the judiciary, they are directly impacted by the crushing reductions in funding that the judiciary faces as a result of the sequester. Indeed, it appears that Congress has singled out the Defenders (and Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys) for special damage.
I have been with the federal courts now, in one capacity or another, for over 25 years. I served as chief judge and at other times I chaired our budget committee. In short, I have “been around the block” when it comes to budget crisis. I don’t scare easily.
But this I know with absolute certainty: Never before have the federal courts faced anything like the impending disaster brought about by the failure of Congress to appropriate the necessary pittance (less than 1% of the national budget) that is required to run the courts including most especially the Federal Public Defenders.
Judge Julia Gibbons, speaking for the entire judiciary, recently told Congress that “the Judiciary cannot continue to operate at such drastically reduced funding levels without seriously compromising the Constitutional mission of the federal courts.” Funding Cuts Will Compromise Federal Courts, Judges Tell Congress, (March 20, 2013)* (emphasis added). She was not crying wolf.
There is no other way to look at it. Congress, with its psychotic fixation on ideology, has begun to intentionally trash the Constitution, the federal judiciary and most particularly the Federal Public Defenders. Unless they prefer a banana republic, where the rule of law belongs only to the corpulent political elite, it is time for the citizens of this country to wake up.
*Statement of the Honorable Julie S. Gibbon, Chair Committee on the Budget of the Judicial Conference of the United States Before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government of the Committee on Appropriations of the United States House of Representative (March 20, 2013).