Pittsburgh federal court prepares for partial shutdown

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Top officials at the U.S. Courthouse in Pittsburgh met today to plan for the possibility that a lengthy government shutdown could affect the federal judiciary's funding.

Clerk of Court Robert V. Barth Jr. said that he met with U.S. District Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti and other judges and will circulate a draft plan to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Federal Public Defender, U.S. Marshals Service and Probation and Pretrial Services.

The draft was crafted by the federal court in North Dakota. It outlines a flexible response to the loss of court funding, in which administrators look forward to the next day's or week's schedule and decide on the level of staffing needed to keep justice flowing, according to Kari Knudson, chief deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court of North Dakota.

"Of course, we are very hopeful that we never have to use our contingency plan," she added.

While the North Dakota plan aims to avoid interruptions to cases, it suspends all hiring, purchasing, new contracts, training, travel and "non-essential" tasks and data gathering.

Court administration in Washington, D.C., according to Mr. Barth, is "telling the judges not to make any distinction between civil and criminal." Neither type of case would be fast-tracked at the expense of the other.

The court-related agencies are to provide comments on the model by Monday, and the Board of Judges would adopt a final plan by Oct. 11.

The federal judiciary is funded in part with fees and has enough money to get to Oct. 15 without altering operations.

Mr. Barth said the first step is to determine which functions are "essential," and then which employees are needed to perform those functions.

Those employees could be required to work without pay during the shutdown and would be paid for their time when government funding resumes.

He said judges would continue to be paid during the shutdown. It's unclear yet whether court security officers would be paid, or deemed essential and compelled to work without regular paychecks after Oct. 15.

A naturalization ceremony for new citizens is set for Oct. 18, and Mr. Barth said that sufficient court staff would be available, assuming Department of Homeland Security employees are able to complete the necessary paperwork for the applicants by then.

breaking - region

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.


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