Oklahoma’s high court says program that generates $3M for DHS annually limits access to system

BY JULIE BISBEE Modified: January 20, 2010 at 8:41 am •  Published: January 20, 2010
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Some fees required for filing a civil lawsuit violate a state Constitution guarantee of open access to the courts, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

In a 6-2 decision, the state’s highest court ruled that fees that don’t go toward the operation or maintenance of the courts prohibit open access to the state’s civil justice system.

A lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent challenged fees collected for the state Department of Human Services child abuse multidisciplinary account, the attorney general’s victim services unit and a voluntary registry which is included as part of fees assessed during adoptions.

In their ruling, the justices said, "The courts may not be a tax collector for the executive branch of government.”

DHS gets more than $3 million a year from the fees, and the attorney general’s office gets about $1 million from the fees, according to Fent’s lawsuit.

If the ruling is not appealed, funding sources to those programs would end, Fent said.

Currently, $10 from all civil court filings in the state goes to the DHS multidisciplinary account; $3 goes to the attorney general’s victim services unit; and DHS receives $20 for its voluntary registry as part of adoption fees.

The state has 20 days to decide whether to ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case. If the case is not reheard, the court’s ruling will be final and binding, said attorney general’s office spokesman Charlie Price.