For Immediate Release
Director, Media Relations
State Bar Association testifies against filing fee hike bill
Increased fees hurt those most in need of protection of the courts
The New Jersey State Bar Association has a long history of opposing fee hikes. The association’s governing body has consistently reaffirmed its position against increased filing fees, since it is a burden that will be felt most acutely by the public who use the court system.
Now, the association is taking a stand against new legislation giving the Judiciary authority to enact fee hikes to pay for several projects.
State Bar Association President Susan A. Feeney testified against the measure on Mar. 8 at 10 a.m. at an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing in Trenton.
To listen to the testimony, click here. Ms. Feeney's testimony runs from 1:21:12 to 1:44:45. To read the legislation, A763 (Barnes), click here. To read Ms. Feeney's testimony, click here.
The NJSBA will monitor the situation and share updates with the membership as the legislation evolves and advances.
Here is a brief question-and-answer about the proposal.
What is the 21st Century Justice Improvement Fund?
This proposal would create off-budget funding for an e-court, Legal Services of New Jersey, and some executive branch legal-related justice programs, including mental health diversionary programs, State Police lab upgrades and Court Appointed Special Advocates. The bill seeks to raise at least $52 million for the fund.
How is this funding going to be raised?
It gives the courts the authority to increase filing fees to raise funds.
Is this a problem?
A modern and efficient court system is important, as is legal representation for the poor. That funding should not come in the form of a user tax. Shifting the responsibility for maintaining an essential state function to users of our court system will result in drastically higher fees for the privilege of enforcing one’s rights. In the end, justice will be denied to those who are most in need of the protection of the courts and least able to afford it.
Does NJSBA’s opposition mean the group opposes Legal Services and the idea of an e-court?
Absolutely not. The New Jersey State Bar Association welcomes the use, ease and transparency that moving to an e-court system would offer. Likewise, the state’s largest lawyers group has been a long standing supporter of increased funding for Legal Services of New Jersey, which fills an important role in providing free legal help on civil issues to the poorest of the state’s poor. But increasing filing fees charged to the public users of the court system, which is tantamount to a user tax, is not the way to do it. Traditionally, filing fees are a cost clients pay, outside of what an attorney may charge, to access the justice system. This plan will require that people who use the court system to have their disputes resolved -- increasingly members of the public who are representing themselves -- be responsible for funding the court’s technology upgrade and for subsidizing the costs of legal representation for the very poor.
What are some examples of the proposed fee hikes?
The amount of the fee increases are in flux, but it is expected that fees will be raised on everything from recording a judgment to issuing a subpoena to filing a notice of appeal.
Lawyers make a lot of money, why are increased fees a problem?
In reality, not all lawyers make a lot of money. The majority of the state’s private lawyers work in firms with less than five lawyers, and a great many have struggled in the ongoing economic recession. This proposal will fundamentally harm the quality of justice available to the residents of this state. The proposal imposes a luxury tax on justice.
The court system was established by the New Jersey Constitution for the benefit of all New Jersey citizens. The 21st Century Justice Improvement Act will not improve justice. It will hurt people who need a divorce, who have been discriminated against at work, who face foreclosure, or who have been in an accident. And, those who will suffer most are the thousands of people whom each year turn to the courts without the assistance of a lawyer. In these challenging economic times, increasing the costs of accessing the court system will only increase the number of people who are denied justice.
What can I do?
Contact your legislators and tell them that you are opposed to the plan. Find your legislators here: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp.
Download a sample letter here.