Monday, June 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Budget cuts impair justice system

The scales of federal justice are unbalanced. Sequestration, the budget-cutting tool of an intransigent, partisan Congress, has left the federal court system in turmoil and on the brink of failure to dispense justice. The coequal branch of government deserves better, as does the public that depends on the federal courts. Congress needs to find the money to fix this problem.

More than 90 percent of chief federal district judges — including those appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents — sent an alarming letter last month to leaders of the House and Senate as well as select committees. Among the 87 signatures was that of U.S. District Judge Anne Conway, chief judge for Florida's Middle District, which includes the Tampa Bay area.

Years of flat funding had had a "devastating impact" even before the $350 million cut to the judicial branch due to the sequestration, the letter said. The courts have the lowest staffing since 1999 even as the workload has significantly grown.

The cuts have had a disproportionate impact on defendants' counsel. The federal public defender program began in 1970 to provide lawyers to those who couldn't afford one. Now 90 percent of defendants obtain a court-appointed attorney, and the public defenders represent 60 percent of those overall. The federal criminal system couldn't function without them.

Since October, federal public defender staff has been downsized by 160 people, or 6 percent. Then sequester cuts forced more than 12,500 furlough days, causing some offices to reject cases or go to four-day work weeks.

Donna Elm, the federal public defender of the Middle District of Florida, reduced staff 13 percent and scheduled remaining staff for 13 furlough days starting in March. The office has had to close every other Friday, meaning no court appearances. If Congress doesn't reinstate funding, she will face an additional 10 percent cut beginning in October. Her staff will be down by a fifth.

Contrast that with federal prosecutors, who haven't faced the same cuts or furloughs. They are paid out of a large Justice Department budget, and the attorney general as law enforcement chief has flexibility to move money around. Lawyers and other staff working for Lee Bentley, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District, have experienced no furloughs, layoffs or pay cuts, according to spokesman William Daniels.

This imbalance will create stress in the criminal justice system and jeopardizes America's commitment to a fair judicial process unless Congress acts to restore cuts in fiscal year 2014. House Speaker John Boehner has said he intends to avert a government shutdown by passing stopgap legislation. But for the courts to continue operating in a reasonable fashion, they need more than stopgap measures. They need a restoration of the funds that have been cut.

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Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

The Trump administration just can’t stop sabotaging Americans’ access to health care. Instead of giving up after it failed to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it continues to quietly undermine the law in ways that would reduce acc...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18