Chief Justice Jean H. Toal Press Release
May 12, 2010
I am deeply grateful to the General Assembly for passing H. 3161 which temporarily raises state court civil filing fees. The legislature's hard work to find a temporary solution to the dire budgetary position of the state Court system is commendable. This two-year fix is the best resolution the legislature can find given the limited options available to ensure that this essential government function is adequately funded.
The Judicial Branch is in a perilous situation unless the Governor's veto is overridden. The current funding level jeopardizes the Court's ability to adequately fulfill constitutional functions. In the absence of the civil fee increases contained in H. 3161, the Judicial Branch will be forced to immediately lay-off judges' law clerks, reduce significantly the number of court reporters and administrative assistants and cancel many terms of court. In addition, the Judicial Branch will have to request that the General Assembly not fill any judicial vacancies. Obviously, these actions would ultimately lead to the delay in the disposition of criminal and civil cases and increase the already backlogged court dockets.
It is worthy of note that the civil filing fee in the U. S. District Court is $350.00 which is higher than the increase approved by the General Assembly. The Governor's veto message states that South Carolina would rank among the highest nationally in civil action filing and motion fees. A comparison between state courts may not be reliable because while not all states have motion fees, they do have various other fees applied at the local and state levels. The comparison of civil action filing fees among states is misleading. While South Carolina has uniform statewide fees, many states' fees vary from county to county. Unlike South Carolina, other states have a variety of civil filing fee structures, such as a tiered fee based on type of case, amount in controversy, or population. Many states have statutes enabling counties to vary fees up to a maximum beyond the base filing fee. Most importantly this comparison does not take into consideration that other states are similarly considering increasing civil filing fees to raise desperately needed revenue for their courts.
It is imperative that the Governor's veto be overridden and that H. 3161 be approved for the two year period to avoid the impending perilous funding crisis of the Judicial Branch.