Monday, December 13, 2004
Judicial Council Votes to Press for Uniform Statewide Filing Fees
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council of California unanimously voted Friday to sponsor legislation which would standardize civil filing fees in superior courts across the state.
The proposal calls for the new fee structure to take effect July 1. It resulted from a statewide study of court fees ordered by California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who chairs the council.
In a statement, the Administrative Office of the Courts said the fee structure, if enacted into law, would help to eliminate a $17 million deficiency in the trial courts’ budget, would “modestly increase” the fees without adversely impacting access to justice in the state courts, and would ensure predictability. The proposal calls for a freeze under which fees would not be changed until at least 2007.
The Court Fees Working Group was appointed by George in December 2003 and was chaired by Justice Richard D. Aldrich of Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal. The recommendation to back the standardized fee schedule was made by the CFWG and the council’s Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Marvin R. Baxter.
Under the uniform schedule, first paper and first responsive paper fees would be set at three levels graduated according to the amount of the claim. For claims no greater than $10,000, the fee would be $180; for claims up to $25,000, the fee would be $300; and for family law cases and unlimited civil filings, the fee would be $320.
Current fees vary from county to county. The Los Angeles Superior Court charges about $150 for claims under $10,000 and about $300 for larger claims. The family law filing fee is slightly less than $300.
Probate filing fees, which for the smallest estates now begin at just over $270 in the Los Angeles Superior Court, would start at $320 under the new schedule, with fees for larger estates rising by a proportional amount.
The proposal calls for a graduated fee structure for small claims cases, a fee of $30 for claims no greater than $1,500, and $50 for claims up to $5,000. The current fee is $22.
Fees for frequent small claims filers would rise from $66 to $75.
The report from the two committees recommended that the council’s lobbyists “immediately seek an author for the uniform civil fee proposal and—request that a ‘spot’ bill be introduced as a placeholder for the proposal.” It said the draft bill was expected to be completed this month, and urged that it be circulated for public comment “on an expedited basis” as soon as it is ready.
The report noted that the CFWG had tried and failed to complete the proposal in time for the 2004 legislative session. Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, and then-Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, wrote to George asking that a proposal be submitted by this month, the report stated.
Escutia chairs of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Corbett was the chair of the Assembly committee. Corbett left the Assembly this month as a result of term limits.
In other action Friday, the council approved in concept a bond measure for the 2006 ballot to fund maintenance, repair, and renovation of California courthouses and legislation that would permit the state to accept transfer of trial court facilities with seismic deficiencies by modifying current facility standards.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company