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Shutdown furloughs 40 percent of Charlotte U.S. Attorney staff

The shutdown of the federal government could delay some trials being handled by U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins’ office in Charlotte.

Tompkins told the Observer on Wednesday that the budget impasse has forced her to put about 40 percent of her staff on indefinite, unpaid leave.

They are among thousands of federal and state workers across the Carolinas who face the possibility of temporary unemployment because of the budget impasse in Washington, D.C.

One of those on furlough is Assistant U.S. Attorney Gill Beck, who handles civil cases out of Tompkins’ office in Asheville.

On Monday, Beck was named one of the lead government lawyers in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against North Carolina’s new voting changes, including a voter I.D. requirement. The next day, he was furloughed.

It’s unclear when he or Tompkins’ other staff members can go back to work. Until there’s a government-spending agreement between President Barack Obama and Congress, Tompkins said, “We’re stuck.”

The office division that handles civil cases has been virtually shut down.

“All civil litigation in which the office is involved will be curtailed or postponed to the extent possible without compromising public safety or the protection of property,” Tompkins said in a prepared statement, which she wrote herself because her support staff has been sent home.

If the federal judges involved decide the civil cases cannot be delayed, Tompkins said she will call in staff as needed.

Tompkins, who as a presidential appointee is exempted from the furloughs, said the office’s handling of criminal cases will continue with “limited interruption.”

Given the federal footprint across the Carolinas, the impact of the budget impasse could be sweeping.

According to the Washington Post, Charlotte is home to some 12,000 federal jobs. Raleigh-Durham, 9,000; Greensboro-High Point, 6,000.

In South Carolina, the federal payroll in some places is far greater. According to the Post, Charleston has 24,000 federal workers; Columbia, 23,000.

In addition, some 6,000 N.C. state workers are paid entirely or in part with federal dollars. A decision on how many of those will be furloughed had not been announced Wednesday.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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