Court cost increase goes into effect today

Published 12:01 am Thursday, June 21, 2012

Changes to court fees approved by the Alabama Legislature this year go into effect today – meaning a speeding ticket will soon cost more, as will other court fees.

In Covington County Circuit Court, court costs associated with a traffic ticket is $135. That fee will increase to $161, beginning Thursday, but will not impact fees associated with seat belt and open container violations.

According to the Administrative Office of Courts, the additional revenue is needed to prevent the layoff of an additional 500 employees from the state’s trial court system, which has already experienced significant reductions in staffing levels over the past several years.

Most circuit clerks’ offices – including Covington County’s – are currently operating at less than 50 percent of the required staffing levels as determined by a manpower formula developed by the National Center for State Courts.

Circuit Clerk Roger Powell said his office manages nine employees, and thanks to local funds, has been able to maintain a staffing level not experienced by other counties.

“However, even though we were able to keep the employees, not all nine are merit employees, meaning they don’t have benefits,” Powell said.

Powell said docket fees will increase by $15 in small claims cases, $26 in traffic cases, $40 in criminal cases and $45 in district and circuit civil cases, including domestic relations cases. Juvenile cases and child support cases will not be affected, according to the new law.

Powell reminded residents that the new court fees are in addition to any fines imposed in a case.

Ten dollars of the new fee will be retained by the municipal clerk or judge for each municipal case where there is an existing municipal court, and $2 collected in each traffic case will go to the Peace Officer’s Annuity Fund.

The new law also adds a $35 upfront filing fee on each bond executed in a criminal case to be paid by the surety, and adds a bail bond fee of 3.5 percent of the face value of the bail bond to be paid by the defendant upon conviction.

The revenue generated by the increase in court fees will be retained within the court system, with one-third retained locally to be used by the circuit clerk and presiding circuit judge for local court administration purposes.

Powell said revenue generated is expected to be “substantial on a local level.”

“Considering the number of cases that are generated locally, the revenue will be substantial, but it’s hard to say a dollar amount,” he said. “The thing is, the civil fees are paid up front, but fees on criminal cases are collected after the fact and not for quite some time. Still, it’s revenue, and that’s a good thing.”

The revenue generated by the bail bond fees will be divided between the district attorney, sheriff and the state or municipal court clerk. A portion of the fee will also go to the Department of Forensic Sciences and the state’s general fund.

Powell said the new bail bond fee system is complicated and will take time for those involved to decipher. He and other clerk staff are working this week to familiarize themselves with the new fees, Powell said.

The last statewide court cost increase occurred in 2004. However, the revenue generated from that increase was earmarked for the general fund and not the operation of the court system.

The court cost increases and the $35 bail bond filing fee will be effective on Thurs., June 21. The other portion of the bond fee will become effective on Aug. 1.

The court cost increases will expire on Aug. 30, 2015, unless extended by the Legislature.