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Amid shutdown, U.S. courts open for now, other services could be put on hold

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo

Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo. | AP

Chicago’s top federal judge said court will be in session Monday, regardless of whether Congress reaches an overnight deal to end the partial government shutdown.

But things can’t go on like this forever.

“We have enough funds to operate until about the first or second week in February,” U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo said.

After that, Castillo said he would have to begin shutting down civil trials and give priority to criminal cases, especially ones involving defendants held in custody.

It’s just one of the many ways the shutdown will increasingly affect the general public the longer it goes on. It began over the weekend and threatened Sunday to spill into the workweek.

“The bottom line, to me, is that federal employees are just being forced to take a big-time hit morale-wise,” Castillo said.


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Tourists have already found themselves turned away from national parks and monuments around the country. If the shutdown continues Monday, almost half of the 2 million civilian federal workers will be barred from doing their jobs.

That would put on hold a swath of government functions, from the processing of new veterans benefits claims to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s support for the government’s annual seasonal flu program. At the Internal Revenue Service, more than half of the 80,565 employees will be barred from working just as tax season is beginning, and as the agency deals with sweeping changes to tax law.

However, mail should be delivered and Social Security checks should go out. The air traffic control system will be up and running — normal operations were reported Sunday at O’Hare and Midway — as will the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and veterans hospitals.

In Chicago, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch said “civil work would be curtailed or postponed” during the shutdown. That means non-criminal court hearings that involve federal agencies could be delayed unless doing so would compromise property or human life.

However, Castillo noted that there is no government-shutdown exception to a criminal defendant’s speedy trial rights. That means if this shutdown drags on until late February, he could envision criminal trials playing out at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse with the help of unpaid employees.

Castillo also said “we got real close last time,” when the government shut down for 16 days in 2013, shortly after he became chief judge.

“I had drafted an email shutting down trials, period,” Castillo said.

That time, he said, the shutdown ended before he could push the “send” button.

Contributing: AP