Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Circuit Clerk Over Filing Fees
By Anne Bucher
A class action lawsuit has been filed against Madison County Circuit Clerk Jane Smith, alleging that the court wrongly charged a $150 filing fee that was done away with by the state legislature nine years ago.
Alabama resident Becky McCafferty filed the class action lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court. McCafferty claims that a 2004 law passed by the Alabama legislature put an end to the practice of collecting the civil court filing fee. She is seeking class action status because there are at least 1,000 people who made civil court filings in the Madison County Circuit Court since January 1, 2006.
She claims that the court wrongly collected at least $150,000 in fees to pay for personnel and court officials. According to the class action lawsuit, the legislature passed a law on May 26, 2004. While the law raised filing fees for certain civil cases, it repealed the $150 filing fee collected by the Madison County circuit clerk.
The fee collections were scheduled to end once the Madison County Commission was repaid $114,406 that it advanced to pay for the district attorney’s office and the Administrative Office of Courts. According to the class action lawsuit, the repayment should have been completed by January 1, 2006. However, Smith has continued to collect the funds.
The law in question states: “Upon receipt by the Madison County Commission of funds in an amount equal to the amount advanced to the Administrative Office of Courts, the chair shall report the fact to the Circuit Clerk of Madison County and to the Administrative Director of Courts. Thirty days following the report to the Circuit Clerk of Madison County and the Administrative Director of Courts, the court fees in circuit court civil cases . . . shall cease and shall not be further collected. The other fees in the aforementioned acts shall continue to be collected until such fees are repealed.”
Last month, McCafferty filed a civil court claim and paid the $150 filing fee. In her six-count class action lawsuit, she claims that this collection fee violates state law and must be refunded. She also seeks a mandatory injunction to stop the collection of the fee. She has requested a jury trial.
In a statement to the Huntsville Times, Smith defended the fee. “The Alabama legislature passed the law establishing this fee,” she wrote. “The Circuit Clerk was not given the authority to determine if or when this fee was to be lifted. The Circuit Clerk merely collects and disburses filing fees.”
Last year, Smith pleaded guilty to three federal misdemeanors for sharing her high-level password in 2009. She was sentenced to one year of probation and a $5,000 fine. Smith claims that she was not aware that she violated any laws when she shared the password.
Updated July 10th, 2013
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