Posted On: October 2, 2013 by Mary Frances Prevost

MARY FRANCES PREVOST, ESQ.: WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT TRYING TO MAKE CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS WORK FOR FREE?

The federal government has not funded federal criminal defender programs or CJA (Criminal Justice Act) programs, leading to devastating cut backs, lay-offs, and furloughs at defenders offices. Additionally, the private appointed attorneys (CJA lawyers) have had their fees cut, payments delayed. Now with the shut down, there are no payments in sight.

Try working for six to eight weeks on a trial, knowing you won't get paid. How does this benefit the system of justice?

Adding to the insult, the Chief Judge of the 8th Circuit has suggested that CJA lawyers need to work “pro bono.” As one can imagine, the clients are the ones who will suffer the most.

Here is how the LA County Bar responded to this crisis:

LACBA is joining with most of the Chief Judges of the nation’s 94 Federal District Courts in writing to Congress to express our grave concerns over the impact that flat funding, along with sequestration, is having on the judiciary’s ability to carry out its constitutional and statutory responsibilities.

While this is a national issue, it has a direct impact locally, where the Central District serves more than 18 million people–more than half the residents of California and more than any federal district court in the nation.

“We share the Chief Judges’ concern over the debilitating impact of underfunding on court operations across the country,” wrote LACBA President Patricia Egan Daehnke. “Underfunding has resulted in delays in processing cases, threats to public safety, reduced courthouse security, and bruising cuts to Federal Public Defenders’ offices.”

LACBA’s letter has been sent to California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, House members who represent those areas of the state that make up the Central District, and other congressional leaders imploring them to act quickly to protect and restore the Federal Courts’ budget, which only accounts for 2 percent of the national budget.

Shame your local representatives into funding the federal judiciary, including the defenders and CJA programs. This abuse must stop.