Thursday, April 24, 2014
Although federal court officials in the District of Maine said they would release a plan for how the courts would operate after their funding runs out this week because of the government shutdown, they have yet to publicly announce what they’ll do.
If the shutdown continues and money for operating District Courts runs out, workers at the federal courthouse may start prioritizing caseloads.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
The two branches of U.S. District Court in Maine, in Portland and Bangor, have enough money left to remain open for normal business until Thursday and possibly Friday at the latest. After that, the court will likely be forced to scale back its operations to the bare minimum required by law, with employees working for no pay.
It’s still not clear whether many pending court cases would be affected.
Court officials had said that if the shutdown continues after money runs out, the federal court and offices may have to start prioritizing caseloads, focusing efforts on criminal cases involving violent crimes and arrests and putting less time-sensitive cases on the back burner.
However, Judge John Woodcock Jr., chief judge for the District of Maine, said in a statement on the court’s website that the court would continue to hold hearings, conferences and trials in all cases even if money runs out. The court’s electronic system for docketing and filing documents will also remain in operation.
“Spending rates and fund balances will continue to be monitored closely in hope that adequate funds may be available to allow courts to operate through the end of the work week – October 18,” Woodcock said in the statement.
Woodcock said the courts have enough money for at least three more days after Monday’s closure for the Columbus Day holiday.
Unlike many other federal entities, which closed immediately when the congressional impasse in Washington led to a government shutdown, the court announced Oct. 1, when the shutdown began, that it had enough money from court-imposed fees and other funds that are not tied to a specific fiscal year to maintain court operations for 10 days.
Since then, the federal administrative office of the courts restricted spending so that it was able to stretch that money into this week.
So far, a handful of federal civil cases in Maine have been postponed as a result of the shutdown – cases in which lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office or other federal entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have requested a delay because of employee furloughs or cuts.
Federal courts are required by law to speedily process criminal matters, with or without funding, but civil cases fall under different rules. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court will also continue processing cases, even without funding, and employees would be expected to work without pay.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:email@example.comTwitter: @scottddolan