GREAT WIN FOR EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE!

Today, the Washington State Supreme Court decided in the case, Jafar v. Webb, that General Rule (GR) 34 requires courts to waive all fees and costs for individuals who are determined indigent.

In this case, the petitioner filed a parenting plan action in Snohomish Count y Superior Court and a motion under GR 34 to waive all mandatory fees and surcharges based on her indigency. Her sole sources of income included a TANF grant of $385 per month and food stamps. The trial court found the petitioner indigent but granted only a partial waiver of fees and surcharges. The filing fee was waived but the court ordered her to pay a $20 courthouse facilitator charge and a $30 judicial stabilization surcharge. The court also ordered her to pay $50 within 90 days.

The Washington State Supreme Court held that GR 34 provides a uniform standard for determining whether an individual is indigent and requires the court to waive all fees and costs for individuals who meet this standard. The Court recognized that GR 34 was adopted to ensure equal access to justice for indigent litigants. Amicus Washington Association of County Officials (WACO) argued that even when a court determines indigency, courts still have the discretion to waive all, some, or none of the fees and surcharges. The Court found that the plain meaning of GR 34 requires courts to waive all fees for an indigent litigant, and the rule does not provide for “reduction” of fees, but “waiver” of fees.  According to the Court, the principles of due process and equal protection require indigent litigants to have access to the courts and require a complete waiver of fees and surcharges.

As Leslie Savina, Advocacy Coordinator at Northwest Justice Project says:

“The opinion is historic and means that low-income litigants (as defined in the rule) will not have to beg or borrow money in order to file their case, they will not have to go without in order to save the $20, $30 or $50 the court did not waive, they will be able to complete their case without fear of being denied orders until they can pay the fees.  This decision makes access to justice a possibility for many in Washington.”

 

Post written by: Judy Lin, KCBA Pro Bono Services, Senior Managing Attorney, Family Law Programs

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