V. Fines and Fees
In 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court commissioned the Statutory Court Fee Task Force, which made findings and recommendations to address the issue of fines and fees in court proceedings. The 15-member Task Force included active and retired judges, court clerks, a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, members of the private bar and elected officials from both political parties.
The Task Force found that assessments imposed on individuals in both criminal and civil cases create severe and disproportionate impacts on low and moderate-income Illinois residents, and that there is excessive variation for the same types of proceedings across the state.
Do you agree with the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force?
If so, what role will you play in reducing the impact of fines and fees on low and middle-class Illinois residents? How would you accomplish this?
Yes, I agree with the findings of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force.
Administrative court fees in particular should bear a direct relationship to the individual’s ability to pay. I support the recommendations of the Statutory Court Fee Task Force with respect to developing a sliding scale of fees owed by low-income and middle-income people to supplement the current waiver system for those living below the federal poverty line and with respect to decreasing variation among jurisdictions. As an attorney and a legislator, I have witnessed the ways in which many Illinoisans do not enjoy equal access to our courts and the equal protection of the laws, and I will use my position to speak out against unfair fees that exacerbate socioeconomic inequality instead of transcending it, as the justice system should. I will work with the General Assembly on legislation implementing many of the task force’s recommendations, and I will work with our state’s courts and the Supreme Court to recognize and adopt best practices, greater standardization and above all, public transparency regarding fines and court fees. I will also advocate for reliable, adequate state funding for courts so that our justice system is not so disproportionately dependent on fees paid by the parties who come before them, particularly low-income and middle-income individuals. When the wheels of justice in Illinois nearly ground to a halt as court reporter pay fell victim to the budget impasse pending supplemental appropriation, the fragility of state support for courts was laid bare. As Attorney General, I will be a voice for a better way, one that asks large corporations and wealthy individuals to pay their fair share and avoids burdening lower-income people who need access to justice.
I agree with the Task Force’s findings that: (1) “The nature and purpose of assessments have changed over time, leading to a byzantine system that attempts to pass an increased share of the cost of court administration onto the parties to court proceedings;” (2) “Court fines and fees are constantly increasing and outpacing inflation;” (3) “There is excessive variation across the state in the amount of assessments for the same type of proceedings;” and (4) “The cumulative impact of the assessments imposed on parties to civil lawsuits and defendants in criminal and traffic proceedings imposes severe and disproportionate impacts on low- and moderate-income Illinois residents.”
I will support the Task Force’s five core principles and advocate for the General Assembly and/or the Illinois Supreme Court to codify reforms with respect to: (1) the Role of Assessments in Funding the Courts; (2) the Relationship between Assessments and Access to the Courts; (3) Transparency and Uniformity; (4) the Relationship between Assessments and their Underlying Rationale; and (5) Periodic Review.