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Federal court in Boston says it will now remain open amid government shutdown

US District Court.
US District Court.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File)

The US District Court in Massachusetts will continue operations no matter how long the partial federal government shutdown lasts, the clerk said Friday afternoon.

In a statement, Clerk Robert M. Farrell said, “Regardless of the length of the ongoing lapse in appropriations, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts will continue to exercise the full judicial authority authorized under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. All cases, both civil and criminal, will proceed as normal business before the court.”

The federal district court in Massachusetts has locations in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.

Farrell’s afternoon comments came a few hours after he said in a prior statement that the court system was formulating a plan for operations.

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“The court is currently working on a plan, but has funding through January 25,” Farrell wrote in a morning e-mail message. “At this time, Our statement will be limited to the statements posted. by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.”

That administrative office said in a statement Wednesday that the federal judiciary has “continued to operate by using court fee balances and other ‘no-year’ funds. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) now estimates that federal courts can sustain funded operations through Jan. 25, 2019.”

Initially, the office said, authorities thought funding would run out Jan. 18.

“The additional week of funding was mainly attributed to aggressive efforts to reduce expenditures,” the release said. “In recent weeks, courts and federal public defender offices have delayed or deferred non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts. Judiciary employees are reporting to work and currently are in full-pay status.”

The statement said court officials nationwide are still trimming costs in the hopes of keeping the lights on beyond Jan. 25, but funds will eventually run out absent a new appropriation.

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“Should that occur, the Judiciary would operate under the terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which permits mission critical work,” the statement said. “This includes activities to support the exercise of the courts’ constitutional powers under Article III, specifically the resolution of cases and related services. Each court would determine the staff necessary to support its mission critical work.”

According to the administrative office, criminal cases are expected to continue uninterrupted, but some federal courts at the request of the Justice Department have issued orders suspending or postponing civil cases in which the government is a party.

Such orders are published online when issued, the office said.

Liz McCarthy, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office, said in an e-mail Friday that the federal courts in Massachusetts currently remain open.

She said, “Law enforcement officers continue to investigate crimes and make arrests, and criminals continue to commit crimes. Therefore, all criminal attorneys continue to work, as do civil attorneys working on criminal cases. Civil attorneys whose cases have not been stayed by the courts must also continue to work.”

Meanwhile, Christopher A. Kenney, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, on Friday called on elected officials to restore funding to the federal courts.

“While it’s incredibly frustrating for us as attorneys to navigate the unknowns and disruptions caused by the partial shutdown, we are aware that it is markedly worse for the dedicated federal employees who keep the courts running,” Kenney said in a statement. “We are grateful to the men and women who are coming to work despite the now very real prospect of furloughs or working without pay and, for their sake, hope for a speedy solution to this impasse.”

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He said that “federal courts around the country have had to cut back or delay certain civil services, and many Immigration Courts have been closed. Without an infusion of new funding before Jan. 25, many people who rely on the courts at some of their most difficult times will have their right to be heard postponed, if not irreparably harmed.”

Kenney also used soaring rhetoric as he spoke of the public’s right to access the courts.

“Access to justice is at the very essence of our constitutional system of government, and it should never be delayed or denied,” he said. “Funding should be restored immediately to allow the important work of our federal courts to continue unimpeded.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.