US Government Says: Don’t Sue So Much - Don’t Worry We Won’t Either - That Way Nobody Will
A letter from Representatives Waxman and Conyers released Monday shows that US Attorney Offices have been under-funded to the extent that it is affecting the outcomes of civil and criminal cases. Some offices even lack basic office supplies.
An excerpt of the letter is below.
Dear Mr. Attorney General:(click here to read entire letter)
We are writing to express our concern that U.S. Attorney offices across the nation are suffering from staffing shortages and lack of funds The consequences appear to be severe. According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys, the lack of staff and resources force federal prosecutors to forego prosecutions in some important cases and to reach plea bargains in others. In some offices, there are shortages of even basic office supplies, like binder clips and envelopes.
Over the last month, our staffs have interviewed Assistant U.S. Attorneys in their individual capacities and gathered information about a dozen U.S. Attorney offices around the country. The picture that emerges is unsettling. U.S. Attorneys have the crucial responsibility of prosecuting federal crimes and pursuing civil enforcement actions. Yet it appears that their ability to meet this responsibility has been severely undermined.
Staff and Supply Shortages
U.S. Attorney offices across the nation are severely understaffed. Due to hiring freezes, experienced prosecutors who leave for the private sector are not being replaced. In several key offices, 20% or more of prosecutor positions remain unfilled.
In Los Angeles, there are 190 positions for Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Forty of these are vacant. The District of Columbia also has 40 Assistant U.S. Attorney positions unfilled, and Maryland has 30. In Chicago, there are 25 to 35 vacancies for 160 Assistant U.S. Attorney positions. Smaller offices are under-staffed in similar proportions. U.S. Attorney offices in Oregon and Arizona each have eight to ten vacancies among about 40 prosecutor positions.
In addition to the reduction in personnel, U.S. Attorney offices lack funding for essential items like office supplies. In Philadelphia, the U.S. Attorney's office adopted a new policy of charging indigent defendants for photocopies of Brady material, the potentially exculpatory evidence that the government is constitutionally required to provide to defendants, because the office could not afford paper for the copier. Forced to defend this policy in U.S. District Court, prosecutors explained that it was necessary because the "office has seen, in recent years, a reduction of about twenty percent in its allocation from Main Justice, with further reductions anticipated in the future."
This under-enforcement of the nation's laws by the government is especially striking in light of the current administration's attack on the legitimacy of private civil suits. On several occasions, President Bush, imitated by many other politicians, has campaigned on the evils of the civil justice system and "out of control" lawsuits.
If the government is not enforcing the nation's civil laws - but lawyers also shouldn't sue corporations because, according to the anti-civil justice movement (aka the tort reform movement), private lawyers (so it is said) take all the victims money through their fees - what is the alternative?
If you or your organization is interested in learning more about or working on these types of civil justice issues, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Senior Fellow in Civil Justice
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy