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Court filing fees jump
State legislature raises costs; critics say it blocks access to justice
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If you want to sue someone in court, be prepared to pay more to file that lawsuit. A lot more.

Starting today, filing fees and add-ons for lawsuits filed in Georgia’s state and superior courts are more than double what they once were.

Due to a new law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last week, a lawsuit that used to cost $107.50 to file in Hall County now will cost $257.50, according to Hall County Clerk of State and Superior Court Charles Baker. The base filing fee went up from $82.50 to $207.50, and the sheriff’s service fee doubled from $25 to $50.

Georgia calls it a judicial operations fee, though most of the money goes directly into the state’s general fund. Only $50 of the fees for lawsuits filed in state court, not superior court, goes to the counties. The counties also keep the increase in the sheriff’s service fee.

Other court costs have gone up. Registering a trade name jumped from $45 to $157, and subpoenas that once cost $1 each now cost $5.

Perhaps most dramatically, the cost of appealing a case went up more than sixfold.

The clerk’s fee for preparing an appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals or the Georgia Supreme Court used to cost $1.50 a page; it now costs $10 a page. That means a 5,000-page appeal that used to cost $7,500 now costs $50,000.

“It will prohibit many people from being able to appeal a case,” said Gainesville attorney Wyc Orr, who is critical of the price hikes. Those who do appeal will face more attorney fees to cull the trial record down to a more affordable length, he said.

Orr noted the words of the late jurist Learned Hand, “Justice shall not be rationed.”

“When the legislature passes these kind of fee increases, they ration justice,” Orr said. “They limit access to the courts.”

Orr has no confidence that the new money brought into the state general fund from the fees will fund judicial operations. He pointed to court add-ons intended to fund indigent defense, of which some $23 million over five years went elsewhere.

“What they do is they use these kinds of things as a kitty to fund the state’s business,” Orr said. “And they do it on the backs of the people who are accessing the courts. What they really are is hidden taxes. But most important of all is how they meddle with the judicial system and put barriers between the people and the courthouse.”

State Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, voted in favor of the law and said it brings Georgia’s judicial fees more in line with surrounding states.

“We’re still lower than states around us, some of them by a good bit,” Collins said.

Collins said like all fees, the money goes into the state’s general fund. Only a constitutional amendment can direct fees to a specific program.

“It effects the total budget as a whole, which in turn provides money for the judiciary and other areas as well,” Collins said.

The lawmaker, who is also a private attorney, said he didn’t think the new fees would create a barrier to public access to the courts.

“I don’t think it impedes any filings in Alabama or some of the other surrounding states,” Collins said. “Could it cost more? Yes. Will it have a substantial impeding effect? At this point, I would say no.”

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