Sunday, April 22, 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: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18