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Shutdown clock ticking for federal judiciary

By: Eric Heisig//October 2, 2013//

Shutdown clock ticking for federal judiciary

By: Eric Heisig//October 2, 2013//

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On Day Two of the federal government shutdown, federal courthouses continue to run.

How long, though, remains to be seen.

The federal judiciary on Thursday said that its branch, which includes judges, defenders and clerks of court, would run for 10 business days if Congress failed to reach a budget agreement.

The 10-day clock is now running, and if an agreement hasn’t been reached by Oct. 14, the federal judiciary said on its website that “it will reassess its situation and provide further guidance.”

“It’s business as usual for 10 business days,” said Dan Stiller, the head of Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin, but after that “we’re in free fall.”

Federal prosecutors already are starting to feel the brunt of the budget cuts.

A memo issued Monday by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors will not be furloughed and criminal cases will continue to be prosecuted “without interruption as an excepted activity to maintain the safety of human life and the protection of property.” Many civil cases will be postponed, however, the memo states, unless they are needed to keep citizens safe.

But much of the support staff is furloughed.

An email to Eastern District of Wisconsin U.S. attorney’s spokesman Dean Puschnig received the following automatic reply Wednesday: “Due to a lapse in government funding, I’m not able to reply to your message. As soon as I return to work I will contact you.”

Peter Oppeneer, clerk of courts for the Western District of Wisconsin, said the judiciary will have to decide after Oct. 14 what is essential and what can be cut.

But holding trials and filing court records is needed, he said, and should continue to happen.

“Everything we do in that sense is essential,” Oppeneer said. “That will continue.”

— Follow Eric on Twitter

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