Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Federal court officials in Tampa lobby to avert budget cuts

TAMPA

Ceiling lights go dark after hours on federal law clerks. Federal jurors get shoved out of buildings while still deliberating. Public defenders toil for free on their furlough days.

This is the state of the federal court system in an age of austerity, according to those in charge, who predict worse days ahead if scheduled cuts are not averted.

"We're collapsing from the inside," said U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich, a 76-year-old Reagan appointee who has served on the bench for 31 years, including as chief judge.

She was one of more than a dozen officials from the Middle District of Florida who spoke Wednesday by video conference to aides for U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, seeking to remind Washington of the fragility of justice.

With a new federal fiscal year only days away, Congress hasn't passed an appropriations bill. But court officials are looking further ahead to the next round of automatic funding cuts — part of what's called the sequester — that take effect Jan. 1.

Acting U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III said his office, which has already endured staff cuts, is at a breaking point. He stands to lose 20 more of his 110 prosecutors, cutting productivity in an operation that expects to bring in $350 million for the Treasury this year. His office budget is $19.5 million.

Federal Defender Donna Lee Elm said indigent defendants will keep coming even if her staff of 83 people falls to 76, as feared.

The Constitution guarantees everyone a defense. But Elm said the government's obligation has been shifted to her employees, who work for free some days and earn as little as $23 an hour when they're paid. She foresees a greater reliance on private contract lawyers who charge the government $110 an hour to help.

"This is not a cost-saving measure," she said.

U.S. Marshal William Berger said cuts will reduce his agency's ability to secure federal courthouses or participate in a fugitive task force that assists local law enforcement.

Chief Probation Officer Joseph Collins said community safety has already been compromised with the loss of experienced officers through buyouts. Mental health, sex offender and drug treatment options have been reduced, he said.

Scores of federal employees and private lawyers attended the lunchtime gathering Wednesday in Tampa, some remotely from Ocala and Fort Myers, all part of a district that stretches from Georgia to south of Naples.

No member of Congress attended. A Nelson legislative aide and the general counsels for both senators monitored the event from a conference room in Rubio's Washington, D.C., office. They listened but didn't address the audience or speakers.

Kovachevich said she had already talked to Sen. Nelson.

"He realized it was a grave situation," she said.

Asked for a statement, Dan McLaughlin, the Democratic senator's deputy chief of staff, said, "The bottom line is the sequester needs to go. You don't cut the budget with a meat cleaver. Instead, we need more targeted cuts of wasteful government spending."

He said getting rid of the forced cuts would entail getting extremists in Congress to stop blocking common-sense solutions and compromise as part of their effort to sabotage the health care law.

Brooke Sammon, Rubio's deputy press secretary, said the Republican senator "has always said that the sequester was a bad idea, in part because it does not prioritize core public safety functions. The only way to solve our long-term deficit problems is to grow our economy, which will require entitlement reform and pro-growth tax reform, not tax hikes."

Members of the House also were informed of the Middle District's budgetary concerns.

Harry Glenn, spokesman for U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, said the Middle District judges did a good job of providing representatives with packets of information detailing the impact of cuts.

"Their biggest concern is sequestration," he said. "Continuing sequestration would be tough on courts because they're manpower-intensive."

Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

Comments
Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

TAMPA — Shaquem Griffin wakes up knowing each day will be better than the last and barely unable to wait until tomorrow."It's just a whirlwind,'' Griffin said.On Thursday, he will walk the red carpet with his family, including his twin brother,...
Updated: 2 hours ago
After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

After months, no action on Hillsborough’s substitute teacher problem

TAMPA — Confronted in late 2017 with reports of misconduct by substitute teachers hired through a contractor, Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins said he would ask tough questions and demand answers. He had his lawyer, Jeff Gibson, ...
Published: 04/21/18
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

DUNEDIN — After losing a four-run lead thanks to a bad sixth inning, it would have been easy for Clearwater Central Catholic to fold against Dunedin in the final of the 49th annual Dunedin Spring Tournament. But quality relief pitching from Gar...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

ST. PETERSBURG — Roughly four hours before taking the field against his former team Friday, Rays outfielder Denard Span spoke admirably about the Minnesota Twins, their organization in general, even hometown icon Joe Mauer.But business is busin...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

BRANDON — Ryan McDonagh blocks shots. He competes for pucks in the corners and wins those battles. He moves the puck up the ice well. He can join the rush. He can shoot from the blue line. He kills penalties."It was a great pickup by (Lightning...
Updated: 10 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 20

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 15, Central 0
Updated: 10 hours ago
St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city said not one of the 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water released on Jan. 18 reached Tampa Bay.There was no mention of the waste released from the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility ever reaching the bay in the city’s notice...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Updated: 12 hours ago