U.S. federal courts likely to stay open despite government shutdown


By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Federal courts across thecountry are likely to remain open and fully staffed if thegovernment shutdown extends into a third week, even if the U.S.judiciary runs out of funding.

The administrative office of the U.S. courts in Washington,D.C., said on Thursday that the court system will continue touse fees and other revenue sources not tied to the annual budgetto finance its operations through at least Oct. 17.

Once the funding runs out, the chief judge of each federaldistrict court will have to determine which employees andservices are "essential" to the court's constitutional duty tohear and decide cases, just as other federal agencies havealready been forced to do. Under federal law, "essential"employees must continue to work during a lapse in governmentspending, while "non-essential" workers are furloughed.

Many courts are poised to stay open - even if the money runsout - ensuring that litigants, attorneys and members of thepublic will likely see little difference in day-to-dayoperations.

Chief judges in New York, Indiana, Nevada, Michigan, Floridaand elsewhere have announced that all court employees areessential and will report to work despite the shutdown. Thoseworkers will not be paid until after the shutdown ends, but areguaranteed their salaries.

The U.S. Supreme Court will also remain open next week fororal arguments.

In part, the judges' determinations are a reflection of ajudiciary that has already seen major staff and budget cuts inrecent years, court officials said.

"We have no plans to shut down," said Sam Hamrick, the clerkof court for the Southern District of California in San Diego,who added that his staff has already been cut nearly one-fifth."We have no plans to furlough employees."

The impact of the shutdown has been felt in cases across thecountry involving government lawyers, as the Justice Departmentand other agencies have sought to put virtually all civillitigation on hold.

Officials had previously estimated that the funding wouldrun out around Oct. 15. The U.S. government shutdown took effecton Oct. 1 after Congress failed to authorize funding, shutteringfederal departments, freezing government spending andfurloughing thousands of workers.

In a statement on Thursday, the administrative office of thecourts in Washington said it would continue to restrictnon-essential spending, such as training and travel, in aneffort to stretch court operations through the end of next week.

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