U.S. Department of Justice hit hard with government shutdown - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

U.S. Department of Justice hit hard with government shutdown

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The Justice Department took a hard hit with the shutdown. About half the staff of the U.S. Attorney's office for the northern district of Alabama is off the job, considered non-essential. That's a term U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance doesn't agree with. Vance sees all her office as essential in moving cases through federal court.

Her office already was operating at a reduced staffing level because of sequestration, which cut staff by some twenty percent. The civil side of operations have been hit hardest. Vance says the public should be outraged.

"What bothers me the most about the entire situation is this whole idea that there are non essential employees in the U.S. Attorneys office. None of my people are non essential," said Vance.

Vance is in the office today with a fraction of her staff.

"Our criminal lawyers are at work because they fall within an exemption, even in a shutdown, for people who protect the public safety. On the civil side of our office though many of our employees on both sides have been told there are non essential and furloughed," she said.

Here's why Vance says the civil side is so important. Attorneys defend the United States when it is sued. They also take affirmative civil action, which can bring in large amounts of money to the federal government.

"Employees working on those cases that can bring money back into the federal government. Furloughed. Employees defending the united states. In many cases furloughed. People may not view that as being important, but that work is critical. Because if the U.S. loses a judgment on the civil side, there's a money judgment against the united states," said Vance

Vance's office, which is part of the justice department , is operating under the Anti-Defficiency Act, which allows essential employees to work.

The Federal Public Defenders Office operates under the umbrella of the U.S. court system. Public defender Kevin Butler explains how his office has survived the shutdown to this point.

"The court had, because I think of effective management, ten days of reserve funds which will allow us to continue to operate," said Butler.

The problem is we're on day eight of ten.

"Those funds are becoming depleted and will be depleted shortly. Once those funds are depleted, we will continue to represent the indigent. We  will continue to provide quality representation. We simply will not be paid for our services," said Butler.

So far, the courts have kept operating. But come mid-month, furloughs will have to start there as well. The plan is that trials for federal criminal cases will continue. Payment to jurors, however, may be delayed.

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