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Plan in works to keep federal courts operating during shutdown

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 3:21 p.m.

Federal court officials in Western Pennsylvania are working on a plan to keep the court operating if Congress doesn't pass a funding bill by Oct. 15, Clerk of Courts Robert Barth said Wednesday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti met with Barth and representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Marshals Service, Public Defender's Office, Probation & Pretrial Services and the Bankruptcy court to start working on a plan based on one developed by the federal courts in North Dakota.

“Their representatives are reviewing the plan to make any suggestions for a Western District plan,” he said.

The comments from each office are due Monday, and the Board of Judges — all the federal senior and district judges in Western Pennsylvania — will approve a plan by Oct. 11, Barth said.

Kari Knudson, chief deputy clerk for the North Dakota federal courts, said the plan is more of a guideline for how court officials will decide on a day-by-day basis which employees are essential to keep the court running that day.

Barth said that's the same case here.

“If you're deemed essential, you will be working but your pay could be delayed,” he said.

Judicial staff will mostly be considered essential since they're necessary to keep cases moving, but the clerks in his office and those that handle juries would be more of a day-by-day decision, he said. That provides the flexibility to give everyone some work hours, he said.

“You determine what function is essential and rotate the bodies to carry out that function,” Barth said.

Furloughed employees won't be working and won't be paid unless Congress, when it finally passes a spending bill, includes a clause that restores their missed paychecks, he said.

Barth, who has been through previous shutdowns, said Congress has done that “every time in the past, where it's gotten that far.”

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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