As the Idaho Legislature winds down into what could be its last week in session, an increasing number of bills are making their way to Gov. Butch Otter to await their fate. One of those will significantly increase the fees charged for court filings.
House Hill 509 passed in the House earlier this month 47 to 20. Friday the Senate voted 33 to 1 in favor of the measure.
“This bill will provide the solution for a new and required technology system for our courts,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston. “We have a constitutional duty to work in conjunction with the judicial branch.”
According to Lodge, the bill will help “modernize” Idaho’s courts, enhance electronic filing of documents and allow for more video conferencing. “The funding for this will be provided by ongoing graduated fees in civil cases,” she explained. “This increase in fees will not impede access to our courts.”
Lodge added “The technological upgrades will amount to less money spent on attorneys. The cost savings will far outweigh the increased filing fees, and courts may waive the filing fees for indigent persons.”
Lodge was not alone in her assertion that the bill would, in the long run, save money for consumers.
“I worry about our access to justice,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, an attorney. “I don't like this huge increase in filing fees, I really don’t. But with technology I can use my time more effectively for my clients and save them a lot of money. We can bring our courts up to speed or we can stick with a system that is dead. I urge your support of this bill.”
Davis compared his law practice today to his practice of the early 1980s. “In the olden days when I started practicing, dealings with the federal court had to be handled in person. Worse yet, we only had a federal court here in Boise, so sometimes we'd put a client on an airplane just to get them in the federal court house for a filing. In more recent years federal courts have seen some dramatic technological improvements, but now it’s time for our courts in Idaho to be so upgraded.”
The bill includes a lengthy list of fees that are to be expanded. For example, it increases the fee that is collected by the court on small claims from $13 per claim to $33 per claim; it imposes a new fee of $20 on "the party taking the appeal;” increases fees for filing “foreign judgments” from $7 to $27 per filing; increases the fee that is charged to those filing a civil case from $50 to $175 for those in regular district court and $125 for those in the magistrate's division of the district court; increases from $30 to $100 the fee that "shall be paid for any filing constituting the initial appearance by a party, except the plaintiff, in any civil action in the district court or in the magistrate's division of the district court, except small claims;” and increases from $15 to $85 the fee that "shall be paid by any party appearing after judgment or applying to reopen a case."