Chief federal judge: Sequestration will have 'devastating' impact on courts

Judge Michael Davis
Michael Davis, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert

The chief judge for the federal court system in Minnesota says federal budget cuts will have serious consequences for the justice system.

On The Daily Circuit, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said Thursday that the Minnesota district is working during the current budget year with about a 16-percent budget cut. And there's no federal budget in place for the next fiscal year, which starts in October.

"If we stay at the sequester figures we have now, it is going to be devastating for our system," Davis said.

Budget cuts have already led to the district moving money from automation and operations budgets to pay salaries, he said. Probation officers have already reduced drug testing and location monitoring for some offenders. If automatic cuts take effect Oct. 1, probation and clerk's offices may face layoffs or furloughs.

Unlike other areas of government, Davis said, the courts don't have the option to stop operation for a set period of time to save money.

"When you talk about keeping someone in custody, one of our hallmarks of our judicial system and our Constitution [is] we do not keep anybody in custody longer than necessary," he said. "They have a right to a speedy trial, and that's written in the law and the Constitution. If you were the person that was sitting in jail for five minutes longer than you should, you would be outraged, and that's the way it should be."

One option the judicial system would have to consider is throwing out cases.

"If we cannot handle those cases within the appropriate amount of time under the Speedy Trial Act and the Constitution, it is clear they have to be dismissed," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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