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'Justice Delayed is Justice Denied' As Government Shutdown Affects Federal Courts

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

'Justice Delayed in Justice Denied' As Government Shutdown Affects Federal Courts

"In federal courts around the nation, the wheels of justice may soon be grinding to a halt.

The government shutdown has already caused delays and disruptions throughout the federal court system, and officials are bracing for things to get a lot worse next week.

The strain is apparent among lawyers walking in and out of Boston's Federal District Court. Passing in front of famous quotes carved in stone, espousing the importance of a smooth-running system of justice, many attorneys say that ideal is becoming more elusive each day the shutdown drags on.

"There is that huge uncertainty, and it will impact our clients' access to justice," says Julie Olson, an assistant federal public defender on her way in to meet a client. Public defenders get paid by the courts and have been getting their paychecks, at least so far. But they are "watching every penny" and slashing spending, hoping to stretch their funding as long as possible.

It is not without challenges, Olson says. It is certainly harder to mount a strong defense when, for example, the expert witnesses you want to hire can't count on getting paid.

"Hopefully they will trust it works out in the end," she says with a sigh. "But yeah, we're asking consultants and experts to work on faith."

Prosecutors, on the other hand, who are employees of the Justice Department, are already working without pay, or have been furloughed.

"It's difficult," says Lawrence Leiser, president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys. "It's a little demoralizing, and as time goes on, the worse it's going to get."

Civil cases brought by the government, for example for alleged environmental or securities violations, have been stalled. And while the official word is that criminal cases are proceeding uninterrupted, Leiser says that is not quite the case..."

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