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Senate Democrats Urge Full Funding for Fed Public Defenders

As budget constraints threaten to shrink the federal judiciary’s already barebones staff of public defense attorneys, a group of Senate Democrats are urging judicial administrators to ensure the program is fully funded in the upcoming fiscal year, Courthouse News reports. Lawmakers and judicial policy organizations have warned for months that funding for the government’s public defender’s office laid out in proposed 2024 spending legislation does not meet demand. More than 90% of federal defendants rely on court-appointed representation.

“Federal Public and Community Defenders are fundamental to the fair and efficient functioning of federal courts across the country,” wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee lawmakers led by Vermont Senator Pete Welch. “Preserving the public defender workforce is essential to our justice system.” Under 2024 spending levels, the federal public defender program is in “dire straits,” the letter said, pointing out that budget shortfalls could lead to up to a 12% reduction in the office’s workforce. Federal public defenders are already short-staffed, the Democrats told judicial administrators. The office is down roughly 100 full-time positions compared with authorized staffing rates for the 2023 fiscal year and is about 400 positions behind the administrative office’s own projected needs, they said.


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