08/08/11 — Court costs spike in all areas, officials say

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Court costs spike in all areas, officials say

By Gary Popp
Published in News on August 8, 2011 1:46 PM

State lawmakers have made the cost of going to court more expensive.

The changes in the law, which took effect July 1, increased court costs and added fees to services that were previously available at no charge.

The hike in prices affects virtually anyone accessing the court system, from small claims to superior court criminal cases.

District Court Judge David Brantley said the changes are dramatic compared to previous increases.

"It is going to be more problematic than in past years," Brantley said.

And not only are the higher costs affecting people using the court, Brantley said, the recent changes in fees are forcing court personnel to adjust quickly as well.

"The significant things for us, I guess, is there are so many different costs that went up and things that didn't even cost us to do. That is the thing everyone is having to adjust to," he said.

One of the largest increases in the last phase of increases is the cost of filing a home foreclosure.

The filing fee for foreclosures went up 100 percent, from $150 to $300.

And the cost of parting ways with your spouse also is more costly.

The fee to file for divorce went from $175 to $225.

The fee for district court civil cases went from $100 to $150, which includes people settling financial matters from $5,000 to $10,000.

The court cost of civil cases in superior court went from $145 to $200, which involves contested amounts that are more than $10,000.

The fee for filing small claims, which involves monetary amounts less than $5,000, went from $71 to $96.

A completely new fee for filing a motion was introduced and will be applied to all civil cases, special proceedings and estates.

Among the common motions affected by the increase include an extension in time, motion of default, motion to change venue, motion to withdraw and motion to amend.

There also is a $150 fee for people who file a counter claim, cross claim, or third-party claim.

The fee increases in criminal district court are varied.

The court fees for non-traffic criminal proceedings jumped from $133 to $162. These cases involve charges of larceny, trespassing, assault, and misdemeanor drug charges.

The fees for infractions, settled in district criminal, went from $141 to $170. Infractions consist, primarily, of minor traffic charges and speeding charges where an individual is traveling less than 15 mph over the limit.

Criminal traffic costs rose from $143 to $172. Criminal traffic includes charges of driving while impaired, no operator's license, driving while license revoked, careless and reckless driving, and speeding more than 15 mph over the speed limit.

These fees are the court costs only, and they do not represent the fines that a judge might impose or other processing charges that could be applied to overall costs leading up to the court date.

The service fees for summoning have also increased.

The cost of summons went from $15 to $30, which entails a sheriff's deputy going into the community and ordering a person to appear in court.

But, Brantley said, the increase in court costs do not equally affect people who access the courts.

"The traffic offenders and these small claims are paying a disproportionate share of the operation of the court system because they are going up 15 to 20 percent on those things, and the service that is provided to them is not changing a bit."

Brantley said the increases might be another way for the legislators to extract money from citizens.

"They can say they didn't increase our taxes. They can say they cut our taxes, but for people who are using the court system, their fees went up. In a huge way," he said.

Brantley added that it appears lawmakers in Raleigh are using the county courts to raise revenue for the state to use on non-court related expenditures.

"The thing that is disconcerting is that all that money does not go to the court system, it goes to the general operating revenue funds for the state," he said. "We now suddenly have become a money raiser for the state. We are state employees, but the judicial system has not ever had to operate on the premise that we have got to collect all the fees for the operating system."