Editorial: Support Legal Aid By Keeping Filing Fees In Place
The idea to fund legal aid organizations through use of IOLTA funds was a stroke of genius that provided ample financial support and harmed no one. At its peak in Connecticut in 2007, IOLTA funding amounted to $20 Million, and Connecticut's legal aid organizations were supported at a stable and even generous level. Because the need for legal services for the poor always exceeds the supply, it could not be said that all such needs were met, but the situation was better than it had been in recent memory.
All that has changed, of course, as have so many financial arrangements in the past few years. Due to the collapse of the real estate market and precipitous decline in interest rates, IOLTA funds dropped to about $4 Million in 2009 and in 2012 they amounted to less than $1 Million. The halcyon days of IOLTA funding are over, and given the financial realities of today, no one predicts their return.
But Connecticut rallied to the cause and in 2012 the legislature increased filing fees for matters in the state's courts, with the increase in fees split between legal aid organizations and the Judicial Department's technology initiatives. Though there was concern that the increased fees would discourage litigation, the predicted dire consequences do not appear to have occurred. The resulting funds distributed to legal aid organizations in the state have stabilized those organizations' funding and allowed them to continue to carry out their important work, albeit not at the level enjoyed when IOLTA funding was working.
In 2015 the increased filing fee arrangements are due to expire. We ask the legislature to act so that does not happen. Everyone is used to the current fee schedule, which does not appear to have had a chilling effect on litigation, and the plain truth is that legal representation for Connecticut's poor will stop, virtually stop entirely, if this funding source disappears. Private and corporate donations to legal aid organizations are encouraging and to be encouraged, but they fall far short of even the minimum needed. We write to encourage the legislature to eliminate the sunset provision for this crucial funding source, and to do it as soon as possible, so Connecticut's legal aid organizations can breathe a sigh of relief and continue with the work that needs to be done.•