A federal public defender in Idaho wants a judge to find another lawyer for an Uzbek national charged with aiding a terrorist group and training others in how to build and use a weapon of mass destruction.
The reason? Samuel Richard Rubin, executive director of the federal defender's office in Idaho, blames budget cuts and cuts mandated as part of sequestration.
"This case is going to take significant resources," Rubin says. "It's a terrorism case, and it has foreign implications."
Rubin says the discovery process alone could involve hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.
Update at 6:30 p.m. ET. U.S. Attorney Won't Oppose Motion:
"We're not going to oppose the motion," says U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson. "It's a matter between the court, defense counsel and the defendant."
Olson adds that it's not unusual for a change in defense counsel in a criminal case and early changes are not disruptive.
She also notes that "this is just an indication that the sequester has real world impact."
Olson responded to our request for comment after we initially published this post.
Our original post continues:
The case involves Fazliddin Kurbanov, 30, of Boise, who is charged both in Idaho and Utah and recently waived a detention hearing. Had it been held, the hearing likely would have made public a search warrant affidavit and arrest warrant that may have provided additional details of Kurbanov's alleged acts.
Rubin has filed a motion to withdraw from the case. A document supporting the motion is under seal, but Rubin explained his reasoning in an interview with NPR.
"We have an obligation to handle 75 percent of the [federal] indigent cases [in Idaho]," Rubin said. "It's important to handle high-profile cases, but it's also important to handle cases involving people who are not high-profile."
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge has yet to respond to the motion. Rubin says Lodge can appoint a private attorney who is willing to take the case.
Federal defenders across the country have been complaining about budget and sequester cuts, and forced furlough days, saying they can no longer afford to take complicated cases or pay expert witnesses.
Last month, the U.S. Judicial Conference, which administers the federal court system, asked Congress for $41.4 million in emergency funding for federal defenders. Congress has yet to act on the request.
The Idaho case is not the first to trigger a motion for withdrawal. And it won't be the last, says Michael Nachmanoff, the federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia.
"The budget cuts are absolutely overwhelming and devastating," he says. "But this is peanuts compared to the next fiscal year."
Nachmanoff spoke during a break from a meeting in which he was figuring out how to trim a third of his staff. He says all federal defender offices have been forced to do the same.