Chief Justice Hugh Thompson
Chief Justice Hugh Thompson (File photo)

Georgia’s high court has become the latest judicial body to agree to levy fees against out-of-state lawyers in order to shore up legal aid programs.

The Supreme Court last month amended its Rule 4 to require that every non-Georgia lawyer applying for permission to appear as counsel pay a $200 fee per case. The fee went into effect on July 1 and will go directly to the Georgia Bar Foundation, which financially supports Georgia Legal Services and Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

The Georgia Court of Appeals adopted a similar fee requirement in April.

The adoption of pro hac vice fees was recommended by a task force of lawyers and judges appointed by past State Bar of Georgia President Charles “Buck” Ruffin last year. They were responding to an ultimatum from the Supreme Court to raise more funds for organizations that provide civil legal services to indigent Georgians or face an increase in bar dues.

Former task force chairman, J. Randolph Evans of McKenna, Long & Aldridge, said the pro hac vice fees around the court system could generate several hundred thousand to $1 million for legal aid organizations.

“I think that anything we can do to raise funding for legal services is a step away from that sort of fee increase for the bar,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugh Thompson. “The court, I believe, is generally pleased with the task force’s work and with the initiative that the bar has shown.”

Georgia superior courts already charge out-of-state attorneys $200 per case, and the money goes directly to the bar foundation.

The Civil Legal Services Task Force is asking for more. It wants superior, state and magistrate courts to charge visiting lawyers $75 for each application to appear in a Georgia case, plus a $200 annual fee that would cover all cases in that court.

Civil Legal Services Task Force Chairwoman Rita Sheffey, a partner at Hunton & Williams, said she’s optimistic the trial courts will follow the appellate courts’ lead.

“There are discussions well under way, and I hear there is broad support,” she said.