Clerk: Court fees should double

LAWRENCEVILLE -- With strapped budgets, tax increases and service cuts, this year may be the year when legislators listen to arguments over increasing court fees, Gwinnett Clerk of Court Tom Lawler said.

The $58 state mandated fee to file court documents does not cover the costs of providing services, Lawler said during a presentation to the county's Engage Gwinnett committee earlier this month. But politics and pleas for court access have kept the fees the same over the past several decades.

Lawler said the fees should at least double, as filing for a divorce in California costs 10 times as much as it does in Georgia.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia is pushing changes as well.

"A lot of (fees mandated by the state) have never been changed since they were adopted," said Beth Brown of the ACCG, adding that the organization planned to look into several fees, including court fees. "Raising the fees to help cover the cost of the service will help ease the challenges that counties are facing with managing their budgets in this economy."

While filing fees are well out of line, Lawler said the county's most bountiful fee is for real estate transactions.

One year he wrote a check to the county for $49 million in deed transactions. This year, even though he expects it to be the lowest ever, Lawler said the county raked in $22 million.

At the same meeting, Superior Court Judge Tom Davis said asking judges to impose additional fines to raise revenue is "a perversion of the system," where fines are meant to be punishments that fit the crime.

He added that he and other judges have imposed fines for people who plead guilty to crimes to pay back the money needed for their indigent defense lawyer and interpreters, but the matter ought to be left to the judge to decide.

"We aren't a revenue raising operation," Davis said. "Ethically and morally, I think that ... poisons the system. It puts an artificial factor at work that shouldn't be there."