Higher Court Fees Help Increase Access to Justice for Hawaii's Needy

flickr; Mike Brand

When it comes to accessing legal services in Hawaii, the needy are at a disadvantage. This session, the Legislature took a step to help address the problem.

Senate Bill 1073 establishes three new surcharges for using Hawaii's courts, the proceeds of which will be used to provide more legal services for the indigent.

Lawmakers passed the measure in May and sent it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie. A spokesperson for the governor told Civil Beat Abercrombie intends to sign the bill.

"(The bill) is going to give much needed, if not desperately needed funding for those who provide legal services for the very seriously underserved in our community," said Avi Soifer, dean of the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "It's not going to solve (the problem), but it addresses it."

In the past, legal service providers who worked with needy "had to go hat-in-hand to the Legislature and look for grants and aid, which was unpredictable," Soifer said.

Currently, when a person initiates a court action — for example, by filing a lawsuit — they must pay a small fee, per chapter 607 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

Under SB 1073, the following additional fees will also apply:

  • Any person in a civil action in the circuit court who is required to pay an initial filing fee must pay an additional surcharge of $50 effective Jan. 1, 2012. The surcharge will increase to $65 beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
  • Any person in a civil action in the district court who is required to pay an initial filing fee must pay an additional surcharge of $25 effective Jan. 1, 2012. The surcharge increases to $35 beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
  • Any person in a civil action in the courts of appeal who is required to pay an initial filing fee also must pay an additional surcharge of $50 effective Jan. 1, 2012. The surcharge increases to $65 beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

The fees will go into a special fund, known as the "indigent legal assistance fund." The administrative director of the courts will administer the fund.

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