Federal judiciary officials said yesterday that budget cuts will force them to stop holding civil trials with juries during the summer unless Congress approves an extra $3.8 million to supplement jury operations until the end of the fiscal year.
Nationwide, the cutoff could affect about 1,200 civil cases that normally use trial juries in mid-June through September.
"We're projecting that our point of no return is June 16," said Edward Garabedian, assistant director for personnel and financial management for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. "Without the money we'll have to terminate the use of juries in civil cases."
A juror is paid $30 a day and receives an allowance for travel expenses.
With no jury, it would be up to the judge and litigants to decide whether to proceed with a trial by judge or to postpone the case until a jury becomes available, officials said. Any jury trial already in progress would not be affected by the cutoff.
The judiciary budget includes a special account to pay for the conduct of jury trials. Officials initially had requested $46.2 million for this account, a figure reduced to $43.4 million by Congress. The passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings antideficit act forced an additional reduction to $41.2 million.
The balanced budget law requires 4.3 percent cuts across the board. Agencies often come to Congress to seek extra money, but this year the new law requires legislators to offset such increases by making cuts in other areas.
Judiciary officials said yesterday their $3.8 million supplemental request is contained in the overall supplemental budget package now pending in Congress.
"This problem came up partly as the result of having more jury trials than we anticipated and also because of Gramm-Rudman," said Dewey R. Heising, chief of the financial management division for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Although August and other summer months are usually slower than during the regular year, court officials said the termination of civil juries would vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on caseload.
In the District of Columbia federal circuit, there were 27 civil trials with juries held in mid-June through September last year, according to officials. Maryland and Virginia federal courts could not provide comparable statistics yesterday.
Officials said they are still hopeful the judiciary's supplemental budget request will be approved before mid-June.