“High-profile cases drained federal court system, judge says”

The Boston Globe on September 20, 2013 released the following:

“By Milton J. Valencia

A series of high-profile cases have begun to financially tax the federal court system in Massachusetts as the system is absorbing budget cuts and is expecting still more hardships, the chief judge of the US District Court in Boston said in a letter released Thursday.

US District Court Chief Judge Patti B. Saris said in a letter to US Senator Elizabeth Warren and addressing the state’s congressional delegation that budget cuts have started to stretch court security and staff, and services such as drug and mental health treatment and legal representation.

“Any further budget cuts will hurt public safety, the administration of justice, and the independence of the judiciary,” Saris wrote.

She added, “The financial difficulties have hit this district at a time when we have experienced some of our most difficult, high-profile criminal cases.”

Those cases include the trials of Tarek Mehanna, who was convicted two years ago in a closely watched terrorism proceeding, and James “Whitey” Bulger.

The notorious gangster’s court-appointed lawyers recently submitted a $2.6 million bill for their work since his arrest in June 2011, and that does not include their work on his two-month trial this past summer.

In addition, Saris noted, the district is set to begin the high-profile legal proceedings for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston Marathon bomber, and is also handling proceedings related to the state drug lab scandal, in which defendants are seeking to have their cases reheard based on possibly tainted evidence.

Further taxing the court are civil liability cases related to the meningitis outbreak involving the New England Compounding Pharmacy.

“These high-profile cases have taxed court staff and security resources,” the judge said. The financial woes have been attributed in large part to the so-called sequester of federal funds, or the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts that went into effect on March 1.

Asked about the letter, Warren also criticized the budget cuts. “The sequester is stupid, and it’s hurting families here in Massachusetts and across the country,” she said. “We’ve seen how across-the-board federal spending cuts are hitting powerfully important programs like Head Start and Meals on Wheels and slashing critical investments in infrastructure and research. It’s time to get rid of this senseless and irresponsible policy.”

In her letter, Saris argued that funding for federal public defenders and probation officials has been hit hardest.

Lawyers and staff in the Federal Public Defender Office, which represents indigent defendants, had to take 14 furlough days in 2013.

The lawyers had to suspend work on Fridays throughout the summer, and withdrew participation in the drug court program. Positions have also gone unfilled.

Miriam Conrad, the head public defender in Boston, said, “We’re going to keep doing what we can and maintain quality representation, but it’s going to be a challenge to maintain our caseload.”

Meanwhile, the Probation Office has had to cut drug addiction and mental health treatment for defendants on supervised release, threatening to increase their recidivism.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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