With the federal government officially shut down, about one-third of employees in the District of Columbia's federally funded local court system will be furloughed starting today. Judges and other employees in the D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals who are needed to process cases are considered exempt from furloughs, but several hundred administrative staff and other employees will be home without pay.
The D.C. courts are stuck in limbo during a federal government shutdown. The local court system is federally funded, but it isn't part of the federal judiciary, which is avoiding a shutdown for about two weeks by drawing on reserve funds. At the same time, although the D.C. courts serve a local function, they aren't overseen or funded by the city's local government, whose budget is approved by Congress. The District’s local government is tapping reserve funds to temporarily avoid shuttering.
All Superior Court and Court of Appeals courtrooms will be open and the courts will continue processing filings and payments, according to the court system's shutdown plan. The court will stop performing weddings, but will continue processing marriage license applications. Jurors will be expected to report and will continue to be paid, but the court will not be providing childcare services.
The 879 court employees set to continue working during the shutdown will do so under exceptions to the federal Antideficiency Act, which under most circumstances makes it illegal for federally funded employees to work absent a congressional appropriation.
Judges are considered essential to performing duties "expressly authorized by law." Law clerks, judicial staff and employees who manage case processing throughout the courthouses will continue working under an exception for employees needed to "perform activities necessarily implied by the law."
All 121 employees in the Family Court social services division and six of the seven employees managing the Crime Victims Compensation Fund program will continue working under an exception for employees "necessary to protect life and property." Five additional employees with the victims' compensation fund program will keep working because their jobs are funded through the program, and not the federal government.
The court system’s administrative branches, from the budget and finance division to human resources, will lose the highest proportion of staff, according to the courts' shutdown plan. The court will continue to pay for certain contracts that "support case resolution activity" or are necessary to ensure safety or protection of property, which includes security and cleaning services.
The court will continue to pay for defender services, which includes funding private lawyers appointed by the court to represent indigent criminal defendants. Under the shutdown plan for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, which is also federally funded, 157 of its 211 full-time employees will continue to work under exceptions to the Antideficiency Act, and the office will keep an additional 10 employees for “essential administrative support.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, which serves as the city's local prosecutor for most of the city’s criminal cases, said the office will follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Justice. Main Justice's shutdown plan includes scaling back civil litigation. Information was not immediately available on how many employees in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia would be sent home or other effects on day-to-day operations.