The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

October 11, 2009

Supreme Court mulls court fees

OKLAHOMA CITY — When Oklahomans file lawsuits, they also help fund a variety of state services by paying civil filing fees the Legislature has authorized state courts to collect from litigants over the years to support such activities as adoption registries, child abuse investigations and domestic abuse shelters.

But that fee-based funding structure is coming under fire in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent that alleges they are unconstitutional and should be struck down. Among other things, Fent claims the fees, which can total hundreds of dollars, interfere with a citizen’s constitutional right to unrestricted access to the state’s courts.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court accepted original jurisdiction of Fent’s lawsuit following oral arguments in the case last week and will decide the issue. The court has not said when it will hand down a ruling, but officials at agencies that benefit from the fees are expressing concern they could be eliminated.

“It’s a lean, lean time right now and losing these fees could really be problematic,” said Charlie Price, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. Courts collect a $3 civil filing fee for the attorney general’s victim services unit that helps pay for services provided by domestic violence shelters across the state.

Enid attorney Roger Johnston said the court system is in need of funds. “But sometimes I think Mr. Fent may have a point,” he said.

Robert Faulk, also an Enid attorney, agrees with the concept. He said the increase in fees over the last decade has significantly limited the ability to seek recourse in state courts.

“It’s the situation on both civil and criminal cases. The Legislature is on record as wanting the court system to pay for itself, but that’s not the way it works. Having access to justice is a right we all enjoy,” Faulk said.

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