US Attorney Offices Slammed by Shutdown
Across the country, about 800,000 government workers hang in limbo. The United States is four days into a partial government shutdown that puts any “non-essential worker” temporarily out of work. The shutdown is responsible for closures in everything from National Parks to after-school programs. One sector that has been experiencing serious shutdown pains is the Department of Justice–particularly the US Attorney division.
US Attorneys represent US interests in district or appeals courts. The 93 men and women appointed to these positions are each supported by Assistant US Attorneys, as well as numerous dedicated paralegals and staff members.
Since the shutdown began on October 1, US Attorney offices throughout the United States have furloughed large chunks of workers. In the Northern District of Ohio , 43% of staff have been sent home without pay. Oregon is reporting 30% of their 120 employees on furlough. New Hampshire has had to get by without 44% of their usual workforce. These are by no means isolated examples. Throughout the nation, US Attorney offices are operating with somewhere between two-thirds and one-half of their regular staff. In addition to the large groups of furloughed workers, many of these offices also report having lost about 15-20% of their staff during sequester cuts.
The type of workers being sent home fall into two categories–support staff, and anyone in the civil division. While civil cases are incredibly important, they are both easier to put on hold than criminal cases, and less likely to involve public safety issues. Most US Attorney’s offices are asking for continuances on any civil cases that have run into the shutdown.
Criminal cases are expected to move forward with delays, despite furloughs being handed to most Criminal Division attorneys’ staff members. These paralegals, administrative aids, IT staffers, and other employees are essential to the attorneys for whom they work. Lorin Reisner, Chief of the Criminal Division at the Manhattan US Attorney’s office provided an interview to Bloomberg Businessweek on Wednesday, stating “From our perspective it’s a mess. We have 10 trials going on in the Criminal Division, and I spent half of yesterday making sure the paralegals who are working on those cases can continue working on those cases, or that we have others who can assist with those trials.”
US Attorneys around the country are voicing their frustration and arguing that the ramifications of the government shutdown are far-reaching. South Dakota US Attorney Brendan Johnson pointed out “When we lose close to half of our staff it affects our ability to recover money for the federal government. So, this is actually a money loser for the federal government.” US Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner described the shutdown’s effects on his office, stating, “It’s kind of like fighting with one hand behind our backs.”
The work that US Attorneys, their assistants, and their staffs provide truly is crucial. Already hit hard by the sequester, our US Attorney offices are struggling to stay afloat in a government shutdown that has deemed many of these men and women who work on a large array of crucial cases unimportant. Unless the shutdown comes to a conclusion soon, we will be facing a government that has declared justice, for lack of a better word, unessential.
Featured image courtesy of [OnceAndFutureLaura via Flickr]