Increased Court Costs in Texas Criminal, Civil Cases

Raising court costs will only affect "the bad guys" and should not be seen as a tax or fee on the average citizen, proponents of the increase say.

But the extra $20 fee will also be imposed on traffic offenders like speeding soccer moms, couples getting divorced, and people who go to small claims court.

Under the proposal, $10 would be set aside for the expansion of the overcrowded Houston County Jail; $9 would go to the district attorney to help fund a new prosecutor's position for a fifth judgeship; and $1 would go to the circuit clerk's office.

The request for funding is less than the $31 increase District Attorney Doug Valeska first proposed in December. Valeska is submitting the legislation for county support, which then goes to the local delegation of the Alabama Legislature for approval.

Circuit Court Judge Larry Anderson said he knew nothing about the initial request for funding.

"We talk about bad guys are going to pay, yes, but it will also increase civil cases, anybody who files in a divorce case, and small claims cases," Anderson said.

"And I do want to let the commission know, the judges were unaware this legislation was being introduced. There was a provision the judges were to receive $1 a case. I talked to the judges. We are opposed to the $1 increase. We asked that it be deleted."

Under the proposal, submitted to Houston County commissioners, all costs in juvenile, traffic, criminal and quasi-criminal cases in the juvenile, district, circuit, and municipal courts of Houston County, and all civil cases in small claims, district, circuit, child support and domestic relations court, will be increased.

Valeska could not attend the meeting because of a probation hearing, but said later that DAs across the state are trying to raise money.

"How do you cover a court without a prosecutor and a clerk to handle the paperwork that goes with all those cases?" Valeska asked. "I have no investigators. I have nine lawyers to cover five circuit and two district judges, and a referee. That's eight and a judge in Henry County. How do I cover all those courts without lawyers and I have no administrative assistant -- nobody to handle the paperwork. This office has not grown in proportion to the work that comes along with more cases."

Valeska's original request brought forth concerns, Houston County Chairman Mark Culver said.

"It has been worked on and massaged," Culver said. "We took into consideration the economy and thought a $35 to $40 increase is too much. We got it down to $20."

Culver said the increase would take effect the third month following passage by the Legislature, which is expected to be in August or September.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the issue Monday.