THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ought to reconsider its proposal to cut one-third of the U.S. marshal's in the District's Superior Court--part of the federal budget cuts. The reaction at the court has been high-level outrage. Judge Fred B. Ugast, acting chief judge, described the effect of the cuts in dire terms: "The proposed reduction of the U.S. marshal force will make it impossible for the Superior Court to conduct its day-to-day business." Judge Ugast later added that the cuts would have a drastic effect on law enforcement because the court would function slowly, if at all.
The marshals are responsible for courtroom security, handling over 200 adult prisoners and 35 juvenile defendants each day. They usher prisoners in and out of the courthouse, handle the court's writs and serve summonses and subpoenas.
The Justice Department takes the view that even with a third fewer marshals the court will still operate without delays. The court's 44 judges take a different view, however. They say they are already skipping cases because marshals are not always available. One court official was quoted as saying: "How would you like to be a judge sentencing a defendant to 20 years without a deputy around. What are they (the judges) going to do? Give the guy some keys and tell him to shut the door behind him?"
The judges may be overstating their case: seven of them met with Justice Department officials but were not not impressed by the officials' counter- arguments. But perhaps the Justice Department --before allowing the budget cut to take effect-- could review its position. Under the D.C. Court Reorganization Act of 1970, the safety of the court is a federal responsibility. If that federal responsibility is neglected, the quality of local justice in this city would suffer. The Justice Department might create a model of how 79 marshals--instead of the current 122--could protect the court and still keep it functioning. But such a sudden cut scares the judges; the cut could use a more artful touch.