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Oklahoma News

January 21, 2010

Oklahoma State Supreme Court strikes down court fees

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court Tuesday struck down three civil court filing fees state residents pay when they file lawsuits, ruling the fees are unconstitutional because they support non-court related activities.

In a 6-2 decision, the state's highest court ruled the fees helped pay for social welfare programs operated by the government's executive branch and that it was improper for the Legislature to require court clerks to collect them.

"The courts may not be a tax collector for the executive branch of government," the 21-page decision states.

The ruling is a victory for Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, who challenged the fees' legality in a lawsuit alleging they amounted to an illegal tax on litigants and violated the open access to the courts and due process provisions of the state Constitution.

"I'm very satisfied, happy with the opinion," Fent said.

Aside from striking down the three fees, the ruling jeopardizes other civil court filing fees he did not challenge that also fund non-court related activities, Fent said.

The high court said the ruling will go into effect and the fees will no longer be collected once the time for seeking a rehearing has passed.

Fent challenged a $20 fee collected in adoption cases that supported voluntary adoption registries and a $10 fee.





that was deposited with a child abuse multidisciplinary account. A third $3 fee supported the Attorney General's Office's Victim Services Unit.

Fent said he had no problem with the programs the fees helped support but that the Legislature must find another way to pay for them.

"If those DHS subjects were that valid, then they need to fund it constitutionally," Fent said. "It appears the Legislature is going to have to fund these out of the general fund. And that could be a problem."

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