- Washington Guardian - Thursday, November 8, 2012

In anticipation of the government heading over the fiscal cliff, the federal courts are threatening draconian cuts even though judges recently took a $1 million junket to Hawaii for a judicial conference.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee suggests the courts cut back on unnecessary travel before laying off court employees.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, the head of the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts, asking for a spending reduction plan to keep the cours running in case of sequestration, the name given to the mandatory budget cuts set to take effect at year’s end absent a new spending deal between the lame-duck Congress and the White House.

Grassley suggested judges start by cutting out unnecessary travel to judicial conferences, a perk that has long created angst among fiscal watchdogs. For instance, judges in the 9th Circuit spent more than $1 million for a recent conference in Maui, Hawaii.

“For a number of years, I have been raising concerns about the significant amount of court funding spent on non-case related travel. Thus far, the spending documents I have seen do not appear to justify the travel expenses associated with several events sponsored by various components of the judiciary,” he said, citing the Hawaii trip and $635,000 spent on paid work days for non-court related travel in 2010 alone.

Grassley’s letter was prompted by a recent email from the federal court system to his Judiciary committee threatening draconian layoffs and spending cuts if mandatory budgets cuts totaling $555 million are imposed on the federal judiciary.

“The entire federal government is going to be absorbing some difficult cost saving measures.  But, it’s disappointing that the federal judiciary outlined draconian measures in a vague email instead of providing a comprehensive plan.  It seems to present a Chicken Little mentality without much effort and forethought into avoiding major disruptions.  The last thing we want is for people to be laid off or justice to be delayed,” Grassley said. 

“The federal court system should have a detailed plan to ensure as little disruption as possible in case sequestration occurs.  I’ve outlined a great deal of questionable spending by the federal judiciary that could easily be curbed to give the cost saving a jump start.”