Friday, October 4, 2002
Senate Approves Justice Bill With New Judgeships for State
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Senate yesterday passed a Department of Justice reauthorization bill that creates one new judgeship for the Central District of California and five for the Southern District of California.
The measure passed on a voice vote, a week after the House of Representatives approved by a 400-4 tally. It now goes to President Bush for his signature.
Members of Congress from California and other border states pushed for federal judgeships, saying they were on the brink of a calamity caused by the increase in felony cases. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted in a statement yesterday that the felony load in the Southern District jumped from 1,200 cases in 1994 to 3,900 in 1999, with no increase in judges.
“There is no court in America that is more deserving of these additional judges than San Diego,” the senator said. “This is the most overworked, understaffed court in the United States.
The new judgeship for the Central District, which Feinstein said was “one of the busiest courts in the nation,” was classified as a temporary judgeship, meaning that a future vacancy would be left unfilled, bringing the total number of judges back to the presently authorized 27. Four of the 27 positions are vacant, with Los Angeles Superior Court Judges R. Gary Klausner and S. James Otero having been nominated to fill two of the seats and awaiting confirmation hearings.
Other states which received judgeships under the bill are Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and Alabama. But the impact of the new judgeships will not be felt until nominations are made and new judges confirmed, a process that has been taking a year or more even in the case of non-controversial selections.
The Senate Wednesday confirmed two district judges—Ronald H. Clark of the Eastern District of Texas and James Knoll Gardner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania—reducing the number of vacancies on Art. I courts to 76, including 48 in the district courts.
Clark is a member of the Texas House of Representatives, a partner in a Sherman, Tex. law firm, and a former Abilene prosecutor. Gardner is a state trial judge in Allentown.
The reauthorization bill, which is H.R. 2215, also requires implementation of reforms at the FBI, with expanded authority given the department’s inspector general to investigate FBI agents. The bill makes clear that the Justice Department’s inspector general can investigate the FBI without first getting permission from the attorney general or his deputy.
Attorney General John Ashcroft already had given the inspector general that power, but lawmakers wanted to prevent a future attorney general from changing that policy.
The bill pushes the FBI to improve its computer systems and internal police force. It requires several reports to Congress, including one from the Justice Department about how it has used its electronic surveillance system formerly known as “Project Carnivore.”
Congress had not passed a Justice Department authorization bill since 1979, leaving it to appropriators in their annual spending bills to determine funding levels for department programs.
“The Senate and House Judiciary committees are taking active new roles in setting the priorities and monitoring the operations of the Department of Justice, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, and this bill will help our oversight duties in many ways,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
The bill also:
•makes it unlawful for a person convicted of a violent felony to purchase, own, or possess body armor, and authorizes enhanced sentences when a defendant wears body armor during the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime. The provision was co-sponsored by Feinstein and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala, and is known as the James Guelff and Chris McCurley Body Armor Act.
Guelff was a San Francisco police officer, and was killed in 1994 in a gunfight with a heavily armed suspect wearing a Kevlar vest and bulletproof helmet. McCurley was an Alabama peace officer killed under similar circumstances.
•Increases penalties for tampering with federal witnesses or harming federal judges.
•Reauthorizes the J-1 visa waiver program, which allows the government to waive the requirement that foreigners go home for two years when they complete graduate medical study if the physicians agree to work in places considered to be medically underserved.
•Establishes a Violence Against Women office within the Justice Department.
•Reauthorizes the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program that reimburses state and local governments for the costs associated with incarcerating illegal criminal aliens.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company