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Lawyer registration fee increase to cover program shortfalls, aid pro bono districts

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Attorney registration fees set to increase nearly 25 percent will cover shortfalls in the judiciary programs they fund and give a temporary emergency boost to the state’s pro bono districts.

Effective Aug. 1, the registration fee for active attorneys will increase from $145 to $180, and fees for lawyers whose status is inactive will rise from $72.50 to $90. The fees were increased by a June 30 order from the Indiana Supreme Court. The annual registration period opens Aug. 1, and fees are due by Oct. 1.

Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson said the fee increase, the third in five years, is calculated to meet needs in coming years as “opposed to punting it down the road” so that additional increases won’t be necessary.

Court officials stressed that even with the increase, Indiana’s registration fees will remain among the lowest in the nation.

Lawyer registration fees pay for operations of the Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, the Commission on Continuing Legal Education and the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program. Now, a portion of the increased fee also will provide revenue for the pro bono districts funded through the Indiana State Bar Foundation.

Chuck Dunlap, executive director of the foundation, said the Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided on the exact distribution, but the foundation asked for $14 to $16 of each $35 increase in the active attorney registration fee. He said the program might have ceased to exist without an infusion of revenue.

The Indiana Pro Bono Commission funds its programs largely from interest on lawyer trust account revenue, but the collapse in interest rates in recent years led to a funding drought. “It’s been devastating not just in Indiana, but nationally,” Dunlap said.

“The program is really in a crisis,” Dickson said. Money from the fee increase can provide a temporary fix for a couple of years, until interest rates rebound or another source of funding is identified for the program that assists civil litigants from a dozen regional offices around the state.

“We’re seeing the courts inundated more and more with pro se litigants. It’s bad for the litigants and it’s bad for the courts,” Dickson said. “This is an important program to us.”
Dunlap said the districts split about $750,000 last year, substantially less than half the money they received in the peak year of 2009. Since then, the foundation has been funding programs largely from more than $2 million in reserves accrued in better economic times.

“The reserve is just about to be exhausted,” he said.

The money the foundation receives from registration fees should raise $300,000 to $350,000 annually for pro bono districts, Dunlap said. Coupled with a $1 filing fee increase passed by the General Assembly in 2012, the money will keep funding close to the current level.

“We’re trying to keep it alive, essentially,” Dunlap said.

Shortfalls, surpluses fees-map-chart
The Disciplinary Commission absorbs more money than any other program funded predominantly by registration fees.

According to financial information provided by the Supreme Court, the commission spent $2,332,918 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. That was over $121,000 more than it took in, but the commission also reported a closing balance of just under $1.5 million.

The commission’s expenses rose 11.6 percent in the 2012-2013 fiscal year compared to the prior year, according to budget information.
Registration fees also fund the CLE Commission, which had expenses of $749,646 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, and a budget year surplus of just over $29,000. The CLE Commission spent 10 percent more than in the prior fiscal year and closed the 2012-2013 fiscal year with just over $600,000 in the bank.

JLAP operated in the 2012-2013 fiscal year with a budget year surplus of more than $108,000, spending $497,716. The program concluded with a closing balance of more than $420,000 after spending 12 percent more than in the prior fiscal year.

Without a fee increase, each of those programs had been projected to operate at a deficit in coming years, according to the data, with the prospect of a combined budgetary shortfall of about $500,000 next fiscal year.

Dickson said program costs aren’t the only factor – revenue also was projected to decline because the number of active attorneys is decreasing. The advent of online registration has also reduced the number of lawyers paying late fees, which also are set to increase.

Delinquent fees will increase by $35 for those who register after the Oct. 1 deadline. The penalty will rise from $95 to $130 for those who pay by Oct. 15; from $145 to $180 for those who register from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31; and from $295 to $330 for those who register after Dec. 31.

“We hope this change presents only a minor challenge for lawyers,” Dickson said of the fee increases.

What other states do

Dunlap said other states that have relied on IOLTA to fund pro bono work have turned to registration fees to bridge the gap. Illinois in 2012, for instance, raised attorney registration fees from $289 to $342, with the entire increase replenishing that lost revenue.

But most states – 32 of 50 – also require a portion of the registration fee to be shared with their state bars, according to a survey of attorney licensing fees compiled by the Office of Attorney Ethics of New Jersey.

Among other findings in that survey:
highest.jpg • Half of states earmark a particular sum for attorney discipline, ranging from $25 to $235. Among states that apportion part of the fee for discipline, the average is about $123.

• More than half – 34 states – tag part of the attorney registration fee for client protection. The share ranges from $3 to $75.

The Supreme Court relied on the July 2013 New Jersey survey that showed Indiana’s fees ranked 50th compared to the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Maryland’s fee of $130 was lowest; Oregon’s fee of $3,722 – which includes a mandatory malpractice insurance fee – was highest.

Indiana State Bar Association President Jim Dimos said increases are never popular, but the registration dues remain low compared to states that don’t include mandatory bar fees.

“From our experience at the state bar, the court seems to administer things relatively modestly,” Dimos said. “While no one’s happy about paying more fees, we’re confident the court thought long and hard about this and believes they need these resources to continue to provide services to lawyers in the state of Indiana.”

In 2011, registration fees went up $15 after increasing by a like amount the prior year. The 2011 increase coincided with introduction of the online registration portal, http://appealsclerk.IN.gov.•
 

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  • More money for witch hunts?
    The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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