Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lawyers sue over court fees

The subject of McHenry County Circuit Court's super-high scale of fees and costs is near and dear to my heart, even now. And even as a person who was not abused by them.

I chose to chicken out on a 2007 Woodstock headlight ticket, because I knew that about $200 in court costs and fees would be assessed, if I argued my case in court and lost. The ticket was unfair, because the cop was going to issue a Warning - until Cop #2 showed up and reminded him that the "word" at the Woodstock Police station was "If Philpott gets stopped, he gets a ticket, not a warning."

Many defendants in traffic court are not aware that they can avoid the court costs and fees by paying their traffic fines in advance of the court date. They show up in court and plead Guilty. The judge might be sympathetic, because he knows they are going to get socked at the Payment window, so he'll set a fine at $25-50 "plus costs". Imagine the shock when the poor (too often, literally) defendant gets to the Payment window and learns he has to cough up $250-275.

The boiler-plate language on the ticket information sheet given by the cop to the driver is insufficient to educate him.

Today's article in the St Louis Post-Dispatch online edition reports that some lawyers in St. Louis are suing St. Louis County courts in some municipalities over illegal charges, such as warrant-recall fees. Read the article.

What I am reminded of was the ease with which Attorney Jack Franks, in his capacity as a lawyer and not as a Illinois State Representative, stood before a judge in a civil courtroom at the McHenry County Courthouse several years ago and asked the judge, routinely and matter-of-factly, in case after case for a body attachment warrant.

Some poor sucker who couldn't pay his credit card bill was on the losing end of the stick, and the creditor had retained Jack to suck the money out of him. The debtor most likely received Notice to Appear in court and failed to appear - his mistake, of course, if he did receive the Notice. But the judge never, in even one case, asked for any proof of service or whether Jack knew why the defendant wasn't in court.

What happens after a body attachment warrant is issued? Let's say the subject of the warrant has run down to McDonald's for a sack of burgers for his kids. He gets stopped for a burned-out license plate light. Bingo! Wanted! So he gets arrested, has his vehicle towed, gets hauled off to jail and sits there until the next day's court. And the kids wonder where daddy and dinner are.

Ka-ching! Ka-ching! The money machine rings up another "sale" at the lobby ATM and at the Jail desk.

Unfortunately, most of the fees on the long Schedule of courts costs and fees are probably "legal", because the General Assembly (that would be Jack and his buddies in Springfield) passed them; the McHenry County Board did its part by tossing in their own set of charges.

Do the cops know you probably won't fight a ticket, because of the risk of those costs and fees? You bet.

1 comment:

Big Daddy said...

Good. About time. I know several judges who agree that court costs are simply another tax.