Shutdown places federal grand jury cases on hold in Arkansas’ Western District

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 671 views 

A halt to grand jury sessions conducted by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas is another impact of the partial federal government shutdown resulting from a showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic Congressional leaders over southern border wall funding.

The Western District of Arkansas includes 34 counties stretching from Texarkana and El Dorado to Fayetteville and Fort Smith. According to the latest available information from the Department of Justice, the district had 19 attorneys and 18 support staff.

More than 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay as a result of the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22, 2018. Causing the shutdown is an impasse between President Trump, who wants $5.7 billion for a border wall and border security, and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives unwilling to approve the funding.

The office of Duane Kees, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced late Tuesday (Jan. 22) that grand jury sessions during January are “cancelled due to a lack of resources” as a result of the shutdown. No similar notice has been issued by the Eastern District of Arkansas.

“Due to it being grand jury I am not able to comment on the number of cases,” Charlie Robbins, spokesman for the Western District, told Talk Business & Politics. “Also I don’t have a ball park figure on cost because it varies each grand jury.”

“No criminal cases will be dismissed and no trials or other hearings will be moved at this time due to this cancellation. The cases that would normally be presented to the Grand Jury for indictment this month will be resolved in other ways,” noted the statement. “Criminal defendants have the option to waive indictment by a Grand Jury and proceed to plead guilty to a criminal information filed by the United States Attorney’s Office. This is one option that will be used for the United States Attorney’s Office to continue to prosecute cases and promote the safety and welfare of people in the Western District of Arkansas.”

The office also said an option is to seek a grand jury not requiring travel expenses for jury members.

Although the grand jury process is halted, Kees’ office said they will continue to work with local, state and federal agencies “to investigate and prosecute criminal cases.”

“Despite the lack of necessary funding, the attorneys and staff members of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas continue to work tirelessly to support and advance the mission of the United States Department of Justice. These employees do so by working long hours to support state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies and to continue to promote the safety and welfare of the Western District of Arkansas by prosecuting federal criminal cases throughout the district.”

The shutdown is having broad impacts in the federal judicial system. Also on Tuesday the agency managing all federal courts said no actions will be allowed to extend into February.

“No further extensions beyond Feb. 1 will be possible. … Most of the measures are temporary stopgaps, and the Judiciary will face many deferred payment obligations after the partial government shutdown ends,” noted the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.