Sequester Cuts Federal Public Defender Program in California

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Forced federal spending cuts are reportedly slashing the number of public defenders working at federal courts in California.

Attorneys who defend low income clients in federal courts throughout California say the “sequester” is making their job nearly impossible.

Some federal court districts in the state report staffing cuts of up to 10 percent and, they say, if next year’s proposed cuts go through, that number could climb to as high as 50 percent.

 “It will wreak havoc in the federal criminal justice system,” says Steven Kalar, the Federal Public Defender for Northern California. He says the cuts are self defeating because they will force the government to hire inexperienced private defenders who are also more costly.

“When you focus on an area you develop expertise in it," says Kalar. "That means generally we can resolve cases much more quickly.”

 Public Defenders and Federal judges say both criminal and civil cases face years of backlogs if full funding isn’t restored to the federal public defenders program. Judges and public defenders were in Washington, D.C. this week to lobby a Senate committee for increased funding.

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