MINNEAPOLIS - In a rare move, 87 federal chief judges sent a letter to Congress this week lobbying for additional funding.
They say pending sequestration cuts would compromise public safety.
"If I look angry I am because the numbers are going to be devastating," said Chief Judge Michael Davis for the District of Minnesota.
Davis was among those who signed the letter, which told members of Congress, "... constitutional duties, public safety, and the quality of the justice system will be profoundly compromised by any further cuts."
Last spring, sequestration cuts forced the U.S. District Court in Minnesota to cut about 16 percent from the remaining six months of its budget. If no agreement is made this fall, an additional 5 to 10 percent may be cut, said Davis.
"You can see that's a double whammy," said Davis in a rare television interview Friday.
Perhaps the most significant impact will be felt inside the federal public defender's office where piles of paperwork surround people like attorney Kate Menendez.
"This job used to be great because it gave us the opportunity to practice really good law," said Menendez. "And now we're just struggling to keep up."
On average, the eight federal public defenders in this office each work roughly 40 to 50 cases at a time, according to Chief Federal Public Defender Katherian Roe.
And she says it may only get worse. She tells KARE 11 she was forced to cut one attorney this past spring because of the sequester and may have to cut even more.
"We've estimated a third to a half of our staff that includes attorneys, investigators, administrative folks," she said may be cut.
Those cuts mean people, typically the poor might not get the type of representation guaranteed to them under the constitution, said Davis.
"The message has to get out," he said.
Davis is taking that message directly to everyone in the Minnesota Congressional District. He invited them to a breakfast Wednesday, Aug. 28 in hopes of lobbying them to restore funding to his office.
KARE 11 reached out to every senator and representative for reaction to the federal judges' efforts. For those who responded, everyone agrees sequestration cuts are bad for the country, but whether both sides will come to an agreement remains to be seen.
The responses from those who responded are below.
Sen. Al Franken: "The sequester's across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts are seriously harming the federal justice system-another alarming example of why we must replace it. I will continue to fight for a full replacement of the sequester with a mix of new revenues and smarter, targeted budget cuts because we need to help prevent further damage to our justice system. This has become a public safety issue, and replacing it shouldn't be partisan."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: "As a former prosecutor and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I know how important it is for our courts to have the resources they need to function effectively and ensure public safety. These budget cuts are another reason why Democrats and Republicans need to come together and focus on smart solutions to reducing our debt that will help move our economy forward.
That's why I supported the Senate budget that passed the Senate in March and replaced the sequester with a balanced approach to deficit reduction. I hope the people affected by these budget cuts will call on the House to join the Senate in conference committee and get this done."
Rep. Betty McCollum: "Judge Davis, I commend you for raising the harmful impact of federal budget cuts to the judiciary and the citizens we all serve. For the Courts, prosecutors, public-defenders, and law enforcement - federal, state, and local - the harsh nature of the cuts will have negative consequences to the administration of justice and that in my opinion is unacceptable."
Rep. Tim Walz: "This is yet another reason why we must work together in bipartisan fashion to reach a budget compromise that the ends indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts of sequestration. Unfortunately, much like the Farm Bill, Tea Party Congressional leaders have refused to allow this to happen. I will continue to urge my colleagues to work together, make the hard choices, find bipartisan agreement in the budget, and end sequestration."
A spokesperson from Representative Rick Nolan's office tells KARE 11, Nolan has been an outspoken opponent of sequestration and believes the cuts are a bad way to run government. Nolan is advocating a return to traditional ways of budgeting.
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