If you want the federal court system to work, you should pester Congress to enact a budget. This is the word from Ruben Castillo, the chief judge for the Northern District of Illinois, who says he has dealt with sequester cuts, the government shutdown, a 90-day budget and another shutdown looming on Jan. 15. “I will not dismantle this court system, and so I need your help. I need your help. We need to get the word out to Congress that they need to come up with a budget,” he said.
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This is the district where the big political corruption cases are heard, But Castillo says it also has a reputation for efficient and fair handling of business-related civil litigation. The court sees 1,000 new criminal cases and 12,000 new civil cases filed each year, to be handled by 22 district judges and 10 “senior” judges, who are retired but come back to help. The district had a budget of $22 million; now it’s $18 million, Castillo says, with further cuts expected. Castillo says he had to go to Washington to fight off cuts in court security, at a time when the court is being asked to handle more street gang, terrorism and organized crime cases.
Castillo, 58, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1994 by President Clinton, upon the recommendation of Sen. Paul Simon, served 11 years in Washington on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. He says he was able to get drug sentences shortened, thereby waving the Bureau of Prisons $500 million, so he says he’s not asking for money without having made a contribution to government thrift. Castillo presented his concerns in a speech Monday before the City Club of Chicago.