Sunday, May 18, 2008

The courts are open -- but only if you can afford it

It's only one of the bad ideas that came out of this year's Legislature, but this one is right in the wheelhouse of a poverty lawyer.

A bill that would make it much harder for poor people to assert their rights in court has passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.

It would require anyone who files a counter-claim or a third-party complaint to pay a filing fee of up to $295! (Until now, there has been no charge for responding to a lawsuit.)

So your landlord pays $85 to file an eviction complaint and if you want to respond that the landlord didn't keep the place properly maintained (or did other things wrong), you would have to pay $295 to raise a counter-claim.*

It's somewhat difficult to track the amendments to a bill, but it seems that these fees were added at the very end of session.

Was the Legislature just looking for money? The counter-claim fees go to the state's general revenue fund; they won't even be used to fund the court system.

And, as usual, the bill leaves unanswered questions. A colleague who has worked on indigency issues for years says it is not yet clear if the payment plan process -- which allows poor people to pay fees for initiating a new lawsuit in monthly payments -- will work for the counterclaim fee.

Florida's Constitution guarantees: "The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay."

But this bill seems to say that the courts are open if you can afford it.

Update: Read the thoughtful take on this over at Truman's Conscience.
* Sometimes you have to file a counter-claim or lose it forever. (That's called a compulsory counter-claim.)


At 3:13 PM, Blogger TrumanDem said...

Ms. Dowd,

I just wanted to thank you for this post. Though I'm sure every post you offer is of equal value in its coverage, this one particular entry was so important I took the time to write about it over at my blog. Your site is so important as it speaks to the liberal/progressive values that many of us hold so dear. The hard work you do supporting the cause of those you represent is under appeciated and thankless. I wanted to take the time to make sure you knew it wasn't in the eyes of us here at Truman's Conscience.

I'll be submitting my vote for your site as the Florida netroots top blog. Also once I get these darn teaching certification tasks behind me in the next week or two I'll be tracking this legislation to see who and when it gets voted on for final passage.


Truman's Conscience
"The Buck Stopped Here"

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Jacqueline Dowd said...

Wow! Thanks for the very kind words.

And you can call me Jackie.


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