FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sr. Director, Communications
Testimony of NJSBA President Kevin P. McCann before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Senate Bill 2062
KEVIN P. MCCANN
SENATE BUDGET AND APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE ON SENATE BILL 2062
JUNE 18, 2012, 9:00 AM
Good Morning, Senator Sarlo, Senator Stack, members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Judge Grant, ladies and gentlemen.
I am Kevin McCann, President of the New Jersey State Bar Association.
On behalf of our membership and the clients we serve, I am here today to express our support for Senate Bill 2062, which provides for new and increased court and application fees to fund the Judiciary's e-Court system which will modernize New Jersey’s courts and to assist Legal Services of New Jersey. The State Bar Association continues to oppose A763, for reasons I will enumerate shortly.
The NJSBA has long advocated for full funding of the New Jersey courts so that the Judiciary can accomplish its constitutional mission of providing access to justice for New Jersey’s many citizens in a manner that is fair, efficient and cost effective. In 2009 the NJSBA endorsed the expansion of electronic filing (or “e-filing”) in the courts on a statewide basis.
I want also to remind the committee of our long-standing record of support for funding for Legal Services of New Jersey. Every year we advocate during the budget process at both the state and federal level for enhanced funding for Legal Services. In addition, many of our members volunteer their services annually to represent clients referred by LSNJ on a myriad of issues, as well as perform many hours of pro bono service through other legal service provider organizations.
The issues presented by A 763 and S 2062 have been difficult ones for the NJSBA, given our preference for providing additional funding to the courts, and LSNJ, out of the General Fund, rather than by filing fee increases. For this reason, my predecessor, Susan Feeney, testified in opposition to Assembly Bill 763 in the General Assembly. At that time, however, the legislation proposed looked much different than today’s Senate bill sponsored by Senate President Sweeney.
One feature of both bills that does remain the same is the use of filing fees to fund both the Judiciary’s e-Court expansion and increased funding for legal services, as well as the creation of a dedicated fund to ensure the fees are used for their intended purpose. As I mentioned, the NJSBA would prefer that funding for these enterprises would come directly from the General Treasury. We would hope and urge that future funding increases would be paid for in this manner. However, we acknowledge the difficult economic circumstances facing the State of New Jersey, and the dire needs facing the Judiciary and LSNJ, and the adverse consequences attendant to failing to act at this time. These factors, and significant amendments to the Senate version of the bill, have caused us to support S 2062, but maintain our opposition to A 763.
At this time, I would like to highlight the differences we see between Senate Bill 2062 and its companion legislation, Assembly Bill 763.
First, S 2062 contains a $50 limit on individual fee increases, and this cap ensures that the filing fee for civil and family matters will not be significantly increased beyond the means of the average litigant. This provision would limit the new fee for filing a civil complaint to $250, rather than the likely $300 which would have been necessary to meet the revenue requirements of A 763. A major concern of the NJSBA was low and moderate income litigants who did not receive assistance from a legal services provider would have to bear the brunt of much higher filing fees. We believe S 2062 better addresses the needs of this class of litigants.
Second, focusing the revenues collected exclusively on e-Courts and Legal Services of New Jersey, means that less money needs to be raised. Rather than raising $52 million as A 763 calls for, S 2062 only needs to raise $27.1 million to fund both the courts and Legal Services – which almost cuts the filing fee revenue increase in half. S 2062 does this by excluding numerous ancillary agencies from receiving filing fee revenue. A 763 would provide some $25 million for these agencies.
Third, there are 5 and 10 year review periods included within S 2062 giving the Judiciary an opportunity to ascertain if the fees are still necessary. Further, another provision provides that if IOLTA revenues increase to $25 million or more at either five years after enactment or ten years after enactment, the filing fees will be reduced. The bill also requires the Judiciary to hold a public hearing where feedback on the fee increases can be provided by users of the court system and others impacted by the fee increases.
Fourth, the NJSBA supports the requirement that the courts and Legal Services of New Jersey would provide an annual report to the Executive and Legislative Branches of government detailing how the monies collected were used.
Helping the Judiciary bring its information technology systems into the 21st century is a step of major importance that will benefit all users of the court system whether they be citizens, judges or lawyers. Similarly, funding Legal Services of New Jersey will help bring much needed legal assistance to our poorest residents – a critical need that cannot be ignored. We believe S 2062 carefully balances the achievement of these narrowly-defined goals against not overly burdening users of the Court system with increased fees.
I, therefore, respectfully urge you to vote to release Senate Bill 2062 from committee.