SOME capital investments should not be subject to deferred maintenance. The disappointed sentiment expressed by U.S. District Court Judge James Carr after a new federal courthouse in Toledo was put on hold was aptly put.
To save money and avoid laying off more employees, a federal conference of judges recently approved a two-year moratorium on courthouse projects under way in 42 cities across the country, including Toledo.
But because completion of the projects was expected to vastly improve the delivery of justice in many of the affected court systems, delays in even the planning stages of the modern facilities are a decided setback to judges, clerks, and other support staff.
"It's not welcome," said Judge Carr of the construction moratorium. "We'll be waiting at least two more years - the target date had been 2010 - until we move into quarters that are substantially more adequate, significantly more secure, than our current building."
The plan to replace the courthouse built in 1932 with a new one on the Civic Center Mall appeared to be moving ahead earlier this year when Congress approved $7.5 million for design and site preparation studies. Yet the cost of waging war in Iraq and securing the homeland continue to produce budgetary shortfalls in a number of domestic areas, including the federal court system that had to trim 1,000 jobs last year because of money woes.
Even with the $225 million a year in savings expected as a result of postponed construction projects, those who set the policy for federal courts say up to 4,800 people could still lose their jobs in the next year.
The system runs with about 21,000 employees, any number of whom could face layoffs with the exception of federal judges and employees of their chambers.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist worries that unless the courts are protected from freezes in federal funding, thousands of valued employees would have to be let go. The loss of experience would be a huge detriment to the judiciary, he said in a letter to Congress.
But despite the private appeals by federal judges meeting with congressional leaders, no funding promises were forthcoming. The shift in military priorities means less money is available and the full impact in the courts and elsewhere is yet to be realized.