Court costs, fines and fees will rise in Madison County following the introduction of a new statewide standardized system for those costs.
In the wake of the passage last year of the state Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act, the Madison County Board voted recently on a table of fee charges to be introduced July 1.
Supporters of the state act welcomed the standardization of some 90 different costs, fines and fees and the introduction of waivers to aid lower income individuals.
Mike Walters, chairman of the Madison County Judiciary Committee, said that this new framework was handed down by the state.
The new charges apply across the state, with mandated minimums and maximums, Walters told the Record.
"I personally thought it was a mistake, and the state should not be involved" in setting standards for counties, Walters said.
The legal advice from the state's attorney was that this was something the Madison County Board had to do, Walters said. The new schedule was passed at the full board meeting in May.
But there is some confusion among the counties over what is mandated in the state act and what powers each county has to control the distribution of some of the funds.
Steven Pflaum, an attorney with Chicago’s Neal Gerber & Eisenberg law firm and chairman of the task force charged with developing the new system and placing it before the Illinois legislature, told the Record that maximum fees and costs are set by the state.
"The actual fees are mandated by the state, but the county has some discretion on where part of the fees go," Pflaum said. "The new law sets maximum fees and costs, but most are not mandated."
Pflaum added, "The law was intended to discourage, not require, increases in fees and costs. I don’t know if Madison County is using the new law as an excuse to increase fees and costs."
He told the Cook County Record earlier this year that in civil cases court fees and costs had skyrocketed and "were pricing people out of the court system.
"There was a very high percentage of civil cases where one side was not represented by counsel," he said. "And that’s a problem.”
Pflaum also said that a major bonus of the new schedule is the fee waiver, which will deliver 25 to 100 percent of the total cost depending on the individual's income.
In announcing the Supreme Court had signed off on the implementation of the new system, Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier said the introduction was the "culmination of a concerted effort by all three branches of government to address the confusion, inconsistency and financial hardship caused by the old system for assessing fines and fees.
"Although the changes originated with the Statutory Fee Task Force – with the direct input and support of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts – they could not have come to fruition without supporting legislation enacted by the General Assembly and signed by former Gov. (Bruce) Rauner," he said. “Addressing the tangle of fees, fines, surcharges and other costs faced by civil and criminal litigants has been one of the most vexing challenges confronting our justice system."