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Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 2:16pm

Justices Bypass Legislature On Fees

The Georgia Supreme Court says, it's bypassing the state legislature's mandate to increase some court fees.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein says, it's a matter of access to the courts.

Responding to a tight buget, state lawmakers this year increased how much county clerks of court charge to prepare appeals.

The cost went from $1.50 per page to $10 per page. It's technically a cost for copying the pages, but it amounts to a fee given to counties.

The Supreme Court said in a written statement that it now will allow appeals to be filed directly to the high court, bypassing local offices.

"I thought it was a huge jump," says Dan Massey, the Clerk of Court in Chatham County. "Whether it was warranted or not, that's for others to decide."

Massey says, the Supreme Court's decision won't affect his office much because few appellants go to the state's highest court.

His office handles about 12 appeals each month, he says. And most go to the Court of the Appeals, which isn't affected by the decision.

"Certainly, [the cost] should not be $1.50 a page, as it's been for the last 30 years," Massey says. "Costs have gone up, but I'm just not sure they've gone up to $10 a page."

Bryan Cavan, President of the State Bar of Georgia, says, he had a recent case in which the clerk of court charged $5,000 for an appeal.

"If we had to pay under this new bill, it would have been $35,000," Cavan says. "That was not a unique or complex litigation."

Cavan says, such costs discourage people from seeking justice. He's hoping the Court of Appeals will follow the Supreme Court's lead.

"When the legislature gets back in session, I think they'll address this provision, understanding how it's affecting citizens around the state."

In their statement, the justices describe their action as a stopgap measure until the legislature reconvenes.