Wednesday, August 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: Hillsborough Commission candidates should take a stand on transit tax

Editorial: Hillsborough Commission candidates should take a stand on transit tax

It’s no surprise that virtually every candidate running for Hillsborough County Commission has promised to make transportation their top priority. Yet few of them have firmly embraced or opposed a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation that H...
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Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Forceful words are coming from the pope’s pen as well as pulpits around Tampa Bay: The sexual abuse of minors, which proliferated for decades within the Roman Catholic Church, were not merely sins but crimes whose repercussions are still being felt b...
Published: 08/20/18
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/20/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18