A proposed reform to the fee waiver system is to require community service in situations where an indigent is seeking a fee waiver for a lawsuit involving money damages. Rep. Bowles has recently put such a bill up for consideration, authored by myself, to require such community service. The amount of community service would be measured by state minimum wage in an amount of hours necessary to finance the fees for which an indigent seeks a waiver. Additionally, if the indigent recovers a judgment, all court fees waived should be repaid to the state.
The wisdom of the proposed reform is to put indigents on an equal footing with all others who do not have such unrestricted access to the courts as indigents have under the present system. A community service requirement will encourage self-regulation and self-reflection before filing a lawsuit. It provides a disincentive to file frivolous lawsuits. The proposed bill will benefit local communities and charities. It will ensure that the courts and state businesses are better directing their limited resources and not wasting them.
The fee waiver will still be available to litigants seeking it in cases where they want to file for money damages. If the community service requirement presents a hardship to an indigent litigant, there is a provision for a hardship waiver of the community service.
A prior bill to reform fee waivers failed when it was put up by the Judicial Branch last year. That bill would have allowed a judge to weigh the merits of the case before making a decision on a fee waiver application. The present proposal is superior to the one put up by the Judicial Branch because it places the burden of evaluating a case on the litigant. Those who have to pay the filing fees already have to self-regulate and evaluate the merits of their own cases by virtue of the fact that they have to pony something up.
The proposed reform puts indigents in that same position. In that sense the proposed reform advances equal access to the courts.
Wyatt Kopp, a graduate of Western New England University School of Law, is a former temporary employee of New London Superior Court and authored the proposed bill which is supported by state Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston.