Justice's wheels slowed as shutdown hits courts

Legal Insight Posted on

The government shutdown is slowing the wheels of justice in federal courts by delaying civil cases, forcing prosecutors to operate with skeleton staffs and raising uncertainty about the system's immediate future if the stalemate continues past Thursday.

That's when federal courts officials expect the reserve funds they have been using since the Oct. 1 start of the shutdown will run out.

Criminal cases, which are required by law to go to a speedy trial, are still moving ahead, as are most bankruptcy cases and appeals. Civil cases and those in immigration court, however, are feeling the greatest impact from the shutdown.

"The Constitution tells us what we have to do and we can't control our workload. It walks in the door, whether we're funded or not funded," said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Loretta Preska in New York, who has put all civil cases except those already in trial on hold at the request of the U.S. Attorney there.

She said the nearly 450 district court employees that serve the New York metro area will report to work to keep criminal cases on track even if funds run out. Officials at courts based in San Francisco, Philadelphia and St. Louis, Mo., also say their employees will work.

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