January 08, 2019 06:03 AM
The pinch of the federal government shutdown is being felt at U.S. District courthouses across Minnesota.
From workers to jurors, to defendants, to attorneys, thousands of criminal trials and civil lawsuits take place each year in the state's federal courthouses in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth and Fergus Falls.
It's a challenge to run the busy operations, even more so now for Chief Judge John Tunheim. He oversees 223 federal employees whose livelihoods are on the line.
"It's stressful for people to worry about not getting a paycheck, for a lot of people a paycheck is very important because they don't have money saved for this kind of thing going on," said Judge Tunheim.
Tunheim said there is enough money to cover salaries through Friday. On Monday, he issued an order declaring all employees essential, which means they're required to show up for work -- without pay.
Tunheim added there is a plan the judiciary is attempting to keep open paid operations another week, through Jan. 18, but it's not guaranteed.
He said he's instituted cost-cutting measures, like a freeze on hiring and new contracts, along with restrictions on travel and training. Employees will receive back pay once the shutdown is over, but it's not clear exactly when.
Tunheim said jurors are also considered essential to the court process and folks who get a notice for jury duty have to show up. They are technically considered employees and also won't get compensated until the shutdown ends.
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So, far 14 civil lawsuits have been put on hold for various reasons, but criminal cases are considered to be priorities and will continue.
"Because defendants have a right to a speedy trial and if delays get too long, their constitutional rights get violated. We feel a little helpless but it's important to keep the court system moving," said Tunheim.
Other agencies feel the pinch too: from the U.S. Marshal's office, which provides security among other public safety services, to the Federal Public Defender's office, U.S. Attorney's Office and personnel with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While FBI offices are open, agents and staff continue working without pay.
Updated: January 08, 2019 06:03 AM
Created: January 07, 2019 09:47 PM
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