February 01, 2014

ABA president calls LSC and judiciary funding “major victory”

ABA President James R. Silkenat called substantial fiscal year 2014 funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the federal judiciary a “major victory for access to justice for all Americans” after President Obama signed a consolidated appropriations bill last month.

P.L. 113-76 (H.R. 3547), which funds federal programs through September 30, 2014, provides $365 million for LSC, a $24 million increase above its 2013 sequestration level. The appropriations measure also includes a $326 million increase in discretionary funding for the federal judiciary, which brings total judiciary discretionary funding to $6.516 billion, approximately the level it was before sequestration cuts went into effect last year.

“Congress should use the bipartisan sentiment expressed in this budget to protect the LSC and the judiciary from future debilitating cuts in the name of sequestration,” Silkenat said in a Jan. 17 statement. “This spending bill is an important demonstration of both parties’ commitment to justice,” he added.

The judiciary funding amount, which includes $1.044 billion for the Defender Services Program, restores almost all of the funding lost to sequestration in 2013 for paying court-appointed panel attorneys who represent indigent defendants in federal criminal cases.

The Judicial Conference of the United States announced Feb. 10 that previous hourly panel attorney rates would be restored, and that, beginning March 1, the hourly panel attorney rates will increase to $126 for non-capital representations and $180 for capital representations. Also announced was a 1 percent increase in keeping with the 2014 pay raise for federal employees.

In an emergency move taken last August as a result of sequestration, the conference had been forced to reduce hourly rates by $15 per hour and to defer payments to fiscal year 2015 for some work performed in fiscal year 2014. The new spending plan provides sufficient funding to pay all fiscal year 2014 panel attorney vouchers without deferring any payments into fiscal year 2015.

In a Jan. 8 letter to House and Senate appropriators, Silkenat expressed the ABA’s appreciation for the legislators’ demonstrated commitment to provide the federal judiciary with the financial resources it needs to carry out its many critical constitutional and statutory duties.

In the letter, he also commended the judiciary for heeding concerns that appropriators had stated in their subcommittee reports about the rising costs associated with court space and occupancy. He noted that the judiciary recently adopted two policies that help control the cost of future mandatory spending on rent:  a “NO Net New” policy requiring an offset for any increase in square footage within a circuit, and a commitment to reduce space occupancy by 3 percent by the end of fiscal year 2018.

P.L. 113-76 also provides fiscal year 2014 funding for numerous other programs of interest to the ABA, including:

  • $67.75 million for the Second Chance Act, which supports prisoner re-entry efforts;
  • $417 million for the Violence Against Women Act, including $39 million for civil legal assistance and a $13 million increase to $180 million for the STOP program for training officers and prosecutors;
  • increased funding from $18 million to $59 million for improving criminal history records and the National Instant Check System for gun purchaser background checks;
  • $4 million for a new Veterans Treatment Court program in the Department of Justice; and
  • $3.024 billion for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to be derived from user fee revenue.     
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