“Civil jury trials would probably have to be suspended due to a lack of funding,” Sentelle said Tuesday, after a meeting at the Supreme Court of the Judicial Conference, the judiciary’s policymaking arm led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Civil jury trials would be suspended for lack of money to pay jurors, but civil trials before judges without juries probably could continue.
The probation system and payment for defense lawyers also could be thrown into disarray, Sentelle said.
Already overburdened “border courts will be hurt the worst,” he said.
The judiciary is developing contingency plans to deal with severe budget cutbacks, he said. Those might include closing some entrances to courthouses to save money on security personnel.
In a modest cost-cutting move expected to save $1 million a year in rent, the conference also announced that six court facilities in the South would close in the next few years and that more courthouses probably would meet the same fate.
“We ain’t done yet,” said Sentelle, chairman of the conference’s executive committee.
Among the courthouses targeted for closing is the one in Meridian, Miss., the site of significant events in the civil rights movement. Trials for Ku Klux Klansmen implicated in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers were held in the 1933 building, and James H. Meredith filed his lawsuit there in 1961 to integrate the University of Mississippi.
The other court facilities that could be closed are in Gadsen, Ala.; Pikeville, Ky.; Wilkesboro, N.C.; Beaufort, S.C.; and Amarillo, Tex., the Judicial Conference said. In Pikeville, only leased space for federal bankruptcy court would be affected, the district’s clerk said. Bankruptcy court would continue in Pikeville’s federal courthouse, which would remain open.
None of the facilities facing closure has a judge based there. Instead, judges travel from larger cities to those courthouses as needed.
The six were chosen from among 60 courthouses in 29 states. There are 674 federal courthouses around the country.
The facilities would be closed in the next several years.
— Associated Press