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November 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Payment of Court Fees Via the Internet Grows in Popularity

Lawyers who practice in a growing number of federal trial courts are enjoying the option of paying various court fees by credit card on-line.

“I think they see this as a big time saver to their staffs. Those who have participated are very reluctant to pay any other way now,” said Clyde Anderson, financial administrator and project manager for the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, where credit card payments began last January.

Twenty-one district courts accept credit card payments for a variety of fees—for opening a case, filing a notice of appeal, motion filings, and attorney admission—in civil cases. From April through June of this year, those 21 courts collected $514,152 in fees paid online.

That’s an increase from the previous three months, when 13 district courts collected $403,293 in such payments.

“More and more attorneys are using it because they find paying online a lot easier than having to run to the courthouse every time they need to make a transaction that requires a fee,” said Chief Deputy Clerk Paige Wymore-Wynn in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, where credit card payments began in July 2005.

Another 21 courts have completed the logistical work needed to offer the remote fee-paying option, and 18 more are either in that process, or plan to start it.

Implementation is divided into two phases. The first includes creating the necessary accounts with Bank of America and Pay.gov, a project within the U.S. Treasury Department. The second phase requires integrating Pay.gov with the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system and a court’s fee-collection process.

“We had a smooth transition because we are a consolidated court, and we already were using credit card payments in the bankruptcy court,” explained Financial Administrator Sharon Dover of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Bankruptcy courts are ahead of the district courts in implementing fee payments by credit card. In the first three months of 2006, 77 bankruptcy courts collected $33.8 million in credit card payments from 148,940 transactions.

For courts, credit card payments reduce the number of checks returned for insufficient funds. CM/ECF will prevent electronic filing if a credit card is declined.

Credit card payments offer lawyers the same benefits as electronic filing: Time is saved by not having to use runners to deliver cash or checks to the courthouse, and by the ability to file and pay court-specified fees 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Lorraine Schoenstadt, project manager in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, said no additional staffing was needed when the remote-payment initiative began last spring. “It was a fairly easy and painless process,” she said. “Attorneys were using it the first day we opened it up for ‘live’ use.”

Wymore-Wynn said her court did not spend time or money in training lawyers about the new option. “Most of them know how to shop on the Internet, so this is not new to them,” she explained.