Statement of Chief Judge Jon D. Levy Regarding the Government Shutdown

Statement of Chief Judge Jon D. Levy Regarding the Government Shutdown

January 11, 2019

The current government shutdown began on December 22, 2018.  Since then, the nation’s Federal Courts have continued to operate by cutting expenses and using court fee balances and other available funds.  Here in Maine, the U.S. District Court implemented a variety of cost-saving measures including postponing or canceling all training and non-case related travel; suspending both promotions and the hiring of new personnel; postponing contractual services and facility improvements; putting all administrative work that is not related to the resolution of cases on hold; and suspending other functions not directly related to carrying out the Court’s primary mission of administering justice.  Also, payments to attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) to represent indigent criminal defendants were suspended starting December 24, 2018.  When appropriations become available, payments to CJA attorneys will be made in full.

 

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts now estimates that the Judiciary’s remaining funds will permit us to sustain regular operations through Friday, January 18, 2019.  Once the funds run out, if legislation to fund the federal government has not yet been enacted, the Judiciary will operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which permits only essential governmental work to continue during a lapse in funding.  For the Judiciary, “essential work” includes activities necessary to the exercise of the Federal Courts’ constitutional functions, including the resolution of cases in which there is a constitutional or statutory grant of power, and any activities addressing emergency circumstances involving an imminent threat to the safety of human life or the protection of property.  Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine will continue to process new and pending criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases after January 18th, even if a lapse in funds has taken hold.  Case conferences, hearings, and jury and non-jury trials will be held, and new cases will be accepted.

 

When a funding lapse occurs, the Federal Courts are not permitted to incur obligations unrelated to the essential work required to process cases. Each of the 94 Federal District Courts in the country is responsible for determining what functions and staff are necessary to support that court’s essential work.  To the extent that court employees do not perform work that is required to process cases, those employees must be placed on furlough status.   Here in the District of Maine, we are identifying those nonessential activities and will adopt a plan by the end of next week to address our staffing needs after January 18th.  Employees who perform activities that are deemed “essential” under the Anti-Deficiency Act will continue working, but they will not be paid for that work until after the federal government is funded. 

 

I conclude with expressions of gratitude.  The employees of the District of Maine have worked hard to keep our courts operating during this period of uncertainty.  They are, without exception, committed public servants without whom the administration of justice would not be possible.  We are also particularly grateful to the government, public defender, and CJA attorneys who are central to the administration of criminal justice in Federal Court.  Many have not received compensation since the beginning of the government shutdown, but have, without fail, continued to fulfill their duties as officers of the court.  The dedication and professionalism of both the Court’s staff and these lawyers is truly exemplary.