would be a 23 percent cut to its total budget.
Defense attorneys said they are concerned whether any further cuts will translate into potential violations of a defendant's constitutional rights.
"Defendants arrested on Tuesday get a bond hearing on Friday, but now they're being held on Monday," said Brock Benjamin, an El Paso criminal defense attorney and board member of the Federal Bar Association's chapter in El Paso. Taxpayers are "paying for the additional time (defendants) spend in jail."
Kimmelman said there may also be a delay in criminal cases being scheduled, and a potential risk of a defendant's rights not being protected because of delays in having a bond hearing or a speedy trial, or sufficient access to an attorney.
Any delays in criminal cases may also lead to civil cases and trials being postponed for long periods, said Carlos Eduardo Cardenas, a local civil attorney and president-elect of the El Paso chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
"Civil cases already have a backlog" in the federal court system, Cardenas said, and added any further delays will "cost litigants time and money, and damages will increase. We have a capable and hard-working judiciary in El Paso, but there's only so much they can do."
Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, which includes El Paso, said cuts to her office may lead to judges appointing more expensive Criminal Justice Act, or CJA, attorneys, who are usually attorneys in private practice who also make themselves available for federal appointments to cases. Private lawyers who are appointed to federal cases are paid $125 an hour.
"I believe it is now widely ... held that the federal public defenders have suffered the full and true effects of the sequester," Franco said in an email to the El Paso Times. "Our program throughout the U.S. is threatened to its very core if we do not get funding relief in Fiscal Year 2014. The cuts to my budget will result in fewer employees in the El Paso office and fewer cases we could handle."
Franco said the cost shifting from federal public defenders to appointed attorneys will end up costing the U.S. taxpayers "much more money."
Because of the cuts, the Federal Public Defender's Office has had to institute 12 furlough days, resulting in a 10 percent pay cut, and has cut funding available for CJA attorneys.
The effects of sequestration have also trickled down to legal nonprofit organizations such as Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which recently had to lay off six employees, or one-fourth of its total staff, and has had to reduce work hours from 40 hours a week to 35 hours a week.
Officials with the organization said that as a result, 5,000 fewer families will be served in its service area in West Texas, and 500 fewer families in El Paso. Locally, three staff members were laid off because of the reduction in work hours.
"If you start shutting the door of the courthouse, when will justice be served?" asked Alberto Mesta Jr., branch manager and attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in El Paso. "'Justice delayed is justice denied.'"
Adriana M. Chavez may be reached at 546-6117.
(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at www.elpasotimes.com
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