Justice now has a price: $10 per page

Deep in the bowels of the recently enacted HR 1055, legislation sponsored by state Representatives Kevin Levitas, Tom Rice, Matt Ramsey, Jim Cole and Richard Smith, which modifies all sort of fees chargeable to citizens, lies a seemingly benign fee structure change for the Clerks of Superior Court which has the potential to impact the ability of the average citizen to argue his case before the highest courts of our fair land:

Preparation of record and transcript to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, per page: 1.50 10.00

Note, that’s per page. With that, a five hundred page record which once cost a maximum of $750.00 to forward to an appellate court in Georgia now will cost a maximum of $5,000.00. And it is not uncommon for an appellate record, depending on the complexity of the case, to exceed 1,000 pages, which would conceivably mean a $10,000 fee for the “right” to appeal an adverse judgment.

I’m told the Fulton County Daily Report already has a story about this, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

How does this help indigent defense? And how can justice be served with such a potentially high entry fee into the carnival that is the Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Court of Appeals?

30 comments

  1. B Balz says:

    Good find, Pete!

    This seems excessive and I am sure the legal community will object strenuously. Just because HR1055 allows such a fee, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Clerk will actually charge that much, does it?

    Isn’t the intent on charging fees for copies was to be reasonable and not excessive?

    There’s never a lawyer around when you need one…. (;>)

  2. Lady Thinker says:

    Gideon v. Wainright (1963) is the case that basically expanded indigent defense at tax payer expense. The appeal was argued by Abe Fortas who later became a Supreme Court Justice.

    I can only assume the $10 per page is designed to discourage frivolous court cases, but then, any case making to an Appeals or State Supreme Court wouldn’t be frivolous.

    I think going from $1.50 per page to $10 a page is a travesty. Much of the money will come from taxpayers and will be funneled into the court system to make up budget deficits rather than cut the fat from the system.

  3. Annie Ethel says:

    § 15-6-79. Payment of unpaid costs in felony cases
    In all of the counties of this state in which superior court clerks are paid on a fee basis, all unpaid costs arising from services rendered in felony cases, including transcripts to appellate courts under indigency affidavits, which are due clerks of the superior courts shall be paid from county funds after each term of court by order of the judge approving same, whether the defendant is convicted or acquitted.

    See also Ga. Public Defender Stds. Council v. State of Ga., 284 Ga. App. 660
    Any more info than that, you’ll have to pay me a retainer.
    Policy grounds:
    Aren’t criminal appeals for indigent persons usually related to an action by the county, like an allegation of an illegal search by a county or city officer? If the county has to pay for the problems created by an illegal search, the county has incentive to not screw up and make sure law enforcement does it right, every time. If your county has a habit of losing on these appeals, you have the opportunity as a voter to address the issue with your vote and involvement. Kinda sounds like… democracy with a bonus feature of fiscal responsibility?

    Frivolous appeals: HA! For nerdy lawyers like me, unpublished appellate opinions are endlessly entertaining, because the opinion-writer gets to point out just how frivolous the appeal is.

    As for “fat” in county government:
    Are you kidding? Wait… you aren’t kidding, are you? If you find the fat, point it out to the county. They would appreciate it because the counties aren’t exactly doing well. You might have noticed what with prosecutors and educators getting laid off.

    • Lady Thinker says:

      Good post with detailed information, however, what is your opinion of costs going from $1.50 per page to $10 per page? And please don’t charge me for an answer, I am a part-time government worker too.

    • Dash Riptide says:

      Aren’t criminal appeals for indigent persons usually related to an action by the county, like an allegation of an illegal search by a county or city officer?

      No, it’s related to the defendant being indigent and it not costing anything for a convicted felon to say “I want an appeal.”

      Any more info than that, you’ll have to pay me a retainer.

      Ah. Well there you go. Follow the money.

  4. sine die says:

    B Balz, to your question, clerks will follow the law which requires $10 per page. If the attorney provides a court reporter certified transcript, that portion of the filing can be covered for $35 (per the same legislation). However, for any documents not a part of the transcript the $10 per page cost will apply as the record must be certified by the superior court clerk and that requires the clerk to make the copies themselves.

  5. iamnotasocialist says:

    I think this is a joke. And–uh– Pete. Please refer to “Kevin Levitas” as Captain Douchbag. Thank you.

  6. Many of the fees changed by HB 1055 had not been updated in decades. Some had become less than the cost of the service, amounting to an unwarranted taxpayer subsidy.

    But the former $1.50 per page charge did not amount to a subsidy. It was already a tax. Private businesses charging competitive rates would charge much less than $1.50 for photocopying a single piece of paper.

    And at $1.50 it was an unfair tax. Individuals and small businesses who feel compelled to appeal are often already facing financial catastrophe. The prospective clients I counsel often face the prospect of liquidating retirement accounts or re-mortgaging a home. But at $1.50 a page, the additional cost of the record, while substantial, was still small relative to the total cost of the appeal. Now the cost of the record will often be crushing, if not prohibitive.

    I do not, of course, have any idea who inserted the $10 per page fee or why. But it is safe to say that it was a mistake on the part of the responsible legislators and lobbyists who let it slip through. The trouble with a legislature that can meet for only 40 days a year is that it is easy for such things to slip in on the 40th day and extraordinarily difficult for such things to be remedied until the following year.

    The trouble with finding an interim solution is that Georgia’s Appellate Practice Act is pretty specific as to preparation of the appellate record. The authorized alternatives to photocopies prepared by the trial-court clerk require consent of the opposing party or the active participation of the trial judge.

    But House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey has proposed a solution at this morning’s meeting of the Litigation Section of the Atlanta Bar Association. He explained that the legislation contemplates that the parties will be able avoid the $10/page fee by preparing their own record. He said that the courts should use their rule-making authority to implement such a procedure. When I asked whether the statute is really susceptible to that interpretation or whether the language he relies upon was intended to refer only to transcripts, on which court reporters have a monopoly, he asserted that the statute at least allows sufficient “wiggle room” to authorized such a rule.

    It says here that Rep. Lindsey’s legal analysis is entirely persuasive. The courts should move immediately to implement such rules.

    • sine die says:

      my guess is the appeals court will NO WAY agree to allowing “non-certified” records to form the basis of an appeal, not to mention the opposing counsel would also have to agree. There’s a reason for requiring certified copies of the ‘original’ filings.

      • Those are valid concerns, sine die. But around the country many appellate courts do require the parties to prepare the appellate record or a “joint appendix” consisting of the relevant parts of the record. And the $10/page charge represents such a serious access-to-justice problem that the courts may be amenable to solutions they would not otherwise find acceptable.

  7. mitchmartin says:

    If that covers what it costs to run our appellate courts, then I’m fine with it. If it raises more than what it costs to run the courts, then I’m not fine with it.

  8. The Comma Guy says:

    Daily Report article:

    Thursday, May 13, 2010
    Law raises fees immediately, but delays seem inevitable
    ———————————————————————-

    I wonder if this might be a good time to consider moving to scanning records and submitting them electronically.

    • ByteMe says:

      Pretty much any time is a good time to use (what is now) inexpensive technology to increase efficiency.

      • Lady Thinker says:

        I know and you would think more people would do it but it seems to elude people.

    • It is past time for records to be submitted electronically. The federal appellate courts do it that way, and it is much better. There are ongoing efforts to set up such a system. But substantial practical problems must be overcome, and the necessary resources and political will have not yet been brought to bear.

      • Lady Thinker says:

        Good luck with that. As I recall, I met you at a Sandy Springs Breakfast in December I think and you are running for an Appeals Court judgeship? I hope that is right and I hope your campaign is going well.

      • AubieTurtle says:

        We still auction off property on the courthouse steps at noon by yelling and shouting while many other states have gone to doing it inside and in an organized manner. I hear some even allow for electronic bidding. If we can’t get past something as archaic as that, I don’t hold out much hope for change to a system that benefits powerful forces by increasing barriers to access by the average citizen.

  9. B Balz says:

    LT, I have known Mr. McFadden for over thirty years; and he is every bit a gentleman, scholar, and learned attorney who just happened to be the main author of the West volume, Georgia Appellate Practice (2d ed.).

    Chris also co-founded the appellate practice section of the GA State Bar and I am proud to know him.

    Thanks for the info, fellow Stormy Petrel.

  10. Lady Thinker says:

    If he is the same person I talked with several months ago, I was very impressed. As I recall, he works and lives in Dekalb. I remember thinking he would make a good judge.

  11. inlimine says:

    Also, the civil suit filing fee in our circuit rose from $82.50 to $207.50, exclusive of the new $50 sheriff’s service fee.

    A boilerplate clerk’s memo went out to attorneys giving a 2-day grace period of yesterday and today before strict enforcement to begin on Monday the 17th. Thanks!

    • Dash Riptide says:

      I have always heard that no man’s life or property is safe as long as the legislature is in session.

      Most of us are so worried about our wives and daughters that the whole life and property thing seems trivial.

  12. Doug Grammer says:

    I had an attorney tell me that you might find a consensus of what the law is in a courtroom, but you will rarely find justice.

  13. kcordell says:

    This is a no brainer. Just get Chip Rogers to levy a fee on lawyers. Put it into a fund where %100 of it will go to indigent defense. You know… like the hospital fees. And oh yeah, lawyers will be forbidden from passing on this fee to their clients.

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