Looming Budget Cuts Threaten Access to Justice in U.S. Courts, Warns New York State Bar President

DALLAS, TEXAS (02/11/2013)(readMedia)-- Automatic federal budget cuts-unless averted by Congress before March 1-will undermine the nation's justice system, limiting access to the courts by individuals and businesses, New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. said today.

Earlier today, the American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously approved a resolution-presented by James-urging Congress and President Barack Obama to adequately fund the nation's court system and legal assistance programs for the poor. The ABA House of Delegates is meeting in Dallas, Texas

"As attorneys, it is our professional obligation to raise our voices about the devastating impact proposed cuts will have on federal courts and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC)," said James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City).

The budgets of the Judiciary and the LSC are threatened by funding cuts that will take effect automatically on March 1 unless Congress acts to prevent sequestration.

"If Congress fails to avert sequestration, the operations of federal courts will be significantly curtailed. Courthouses would be open fewer hours, resulting in prolonged delays in civil trials," James said.

He explained that since criminal cases will receive priority, "sequestration would disproportionally affect civil cases, delaying resolution of business disputes as well as personal bankruptcy and civil rights cases."

The Legal Services Corporation, created by a 1974 federal law, makes grants to local organizations providing civil legal services to the poor.

"Cuts to the LSC budget would hurt vulnerable low-income individuals-including veterans, the elderly and disabled. They would be deprived of legal assistance as they face eviction, foreclosure, family disruption, domestic violence, health and immigration problems," James said.

Even in the absence of sequestration, there could be additional budget cuts on the horizon. As congressional negotiators finalize the overall budget, the Judiciary and LSC will compete for funding with defense spending and other domestic programs, James noted.

The budget resolution approved at the ABA's Midyear Meeting states:

RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges federal elected officials, as they consider deficit reduction for fiscal year 2013 and beyond, to maintain the ability of individuals, as well as business and other organizations, to have access to justice by assuring that (1) the federal courts receive funding adequate to permit them to perform their constitutional functions effectively and efficiently, and (2) the Legal Services Corporation receives funding to meet the needs of our country's most vulnerable individuals who are eligible for services provided by the nation's legal service providers.

The resolution was introduced by the New York State Bar Association and presented to the House of Delegates by President James. Under his leadership, the State Bar Association has met with members of New York's congressional delegation to explain the impact of sequestration or other significant budget cuts on the federal courts and the LSC.

The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.