July 30, 2010



Legislators Say New Additional $125 Fee Will Provide More Funding for Georgia's Courts

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker issued an official opinion (click link to view the opinion in its entirety) on July 27, 2010 that consequently requires clerks of superior court to assess and collect an additional $125 Judicial Operation Fee on all new and renewal applications submitted by individuals desiring a notary public commission. The opinion was issued in response to specific provisions of HB 1055 (Act No. 360) enacted by the Georgia General Assembly in April of this year.

Prior to enactment of the bill, the cost to apply for a new--or to renew an existing--notary public commission was $37 but, as a result of provisions of the bill, both fees were increased to $162. The extra $125 assessment will be remitted to the general fund of the state and purportedly may be used by legislators to help offset costs for funding traditionally state-funded courts (the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and superior courts) and adjunct court agencies (such as the Administrative Office of the Courts).

Liberty County Clerk of Superior Court F. Barry Wilkes said that this is the first time in Georgia's history that any monies derived from notary public application fees have been allocated or earmarked by law for the benefit of state government. Historically, all funds derived from local court fees and services specifically, including notary public applications, have been paid into the general fund of local county government to pay for local governmental operations, although legislators imposed a special fee in 2004 similar to HB 1055 in which a surcharge was added to all fines and fees assessed in local courts and earmarked by legislators to fund a statewide indigent defense program.

HB 1055 requires the clerk of superior court to assess the new fee on all civil cases in superior court and state court. The additional $125 added to superior court cases is paid to the state general fund while, from the $125 added to state court civil case filing fees, $50 is paid to the county governing authority and the state receives the remaining $75.

Wilkes disagrees with the attorney general's opinion but said he and other clerks are now legally 'locked in' and must comply. "I don't think (the attorney general) and his staff correctly interpreted the context of the bill.," he said. "However, as a county constitutional officer, my hands are tied and I now have no choice but to collect the additional fee since, once the attorney general issued the official opinion, I am bound to enforce the law in accordance his interpretation of the law. Nonetheless, the increases created by (House Bill 1055) are exorbitant and, in my opinion, were unnecessary. This bill sets a dangerous precedent because it mandates that a county-funded, local government agency--the superior court clerk's office--must provide an unfunded and mandated system for assessing and collecting fees for benefit of state government. What's worse, local taxpayers who need to avail themselves to the courts and who want to become a notary public are having to pay excessive fees when many are already tax-strapped and having to pay over and over again money out of their pockets to fund operations of more and more operations of local, state and federal government, including the courts. I sincerely hope that the citizens of Liberty County don't blame me (for the new fees) because I did everything I could to try to convince legislators to not add the new fees or to significantly increase old, existing ones without providing all stakeholders an opportunity to provide (legislators) input."

HB 1055 was effective on May 12 of this year, when Governor Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law. However, because Wilkes and other clerks were not convinced that provisions of the bill applicable to notary public fees required them to assess the new Judicial Operations Fund, their association asked the attorney general to officially interpret the law for them since the attorney general is the official legal counsel for all agencies of government in the state.