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New Judiciary filing fees rejected by Hogan, board

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

At Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, shown at a previous meeting, teamed up to reject a Maryland Judiciary request for new fees for some filings. (File Photo/Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Judiciary walked away with a split decision from the Board of Public Works Wednesday after the three-member panel voted to eliminate some filing fees and rejected a request to impose new ones.

The fee changes requested by the courts drew the attention of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has made cutting fees and taxes a hallmark of his first term in office.

“I’m opposed to creating new fees or increasing fees regardless of which branch of government tries to impose them,” said Hogan during the Wednesday meeting.

Hogan called for the board to separate the two requests made by the Judiciary.

Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp voted with the governor, without further discussion, to approve a request to eliminate $30 filing fees for expunging juvenile records and for docketing a petition to expunge a criminal record in cases where there was not a guilty disposition. Also eliminated was a $2 fee to clerks of the court for each copy handled by mail.

“We’ve been focused on trying to put money back in the pockets of hardworking Maryland families, small businesses and retirees, which is exactly what we said we would do,” said Hogan. “We’ve reduced or eliminated more than 250 fees.”

Hogan and Franchot also voted together to reject the Judiciary’s request to impose new fees, including a new $165 fee for post-conviction and coram nobis filings; a new $30 filing fee for docketing a petition for shielding under the Maryland Second Chance Act; a new 50-cent fee for uncertified records; and a $5.50 fee for certified copies of marriage licenses.

Kopp opposed the motion to reject the fees but offered no comment.

Nadine Maeser, a spokeswoman for the Judiciary, said the changes would have no direct impact on the court system since the fees go into the state general fund.

Supporting documentation does not provide details on how much the reductions would affect the general fund.

The decision by the board, in part, does appear to conflict with recommendations from the Office of Legislative Audits when it comes to fees related to coram nobis petitions, which are post-conviction filings by  defendants where it is alleged an error at trial led to the judgment.

Currently, the Judiciary charges a $165 fee in civil cases where a defendant believes there has been an error of fact of procedure in their respective case. The fee is not always charged in criminal cases because some clerk staff “mistakenly believe that since the cases stem from criminal matters” that a fee should not be charged, according to supporting documentation provided by the Judiciary to the Board of Public Works.

But the Judiciary noted that state auditors see the cases “as civil in nature” and raised questions about why fees in criminal cases were not being charged.

The Judiciary noted that the change, which was ultimately rejected by Hogan and Franchot, “would enable the Judiciary to comply with legislative audits.”

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