Gov. Dannel P. Malloy paid a visit to the New Haven Legal Assistance Association on Friday, April 18 to reaffirm his support for a legislative proposal that would send a greater proportion of court filing fees to legal aid groups.
“Connecticut legal aid services have been forced to shrink because of pressures on other sources of funding,” Malloy said. “When legal aid agencies have to turn away low-income victims of domestic violence, tenants facing eviction, children with disabilities who are entitled to supportive services… it’s not good for our state.”
Historically, the state’s legal aid agencies have received most of their funding from interest on lawyers trust accounts. But when the Great Recession hit, IOLTA proceeds began plummeting, falling from a high of $24 million to barely $2 million last year.
To help cover the difference, lawmakers in 2009 increased various court filing fees, with the extra revenue funneled to groups such as Connecticut Legal Services, New Haven Legal Assistance Association and Greater Hartford Legal Aid. In 2012, more fees were added to further help the legal aid groups.
But the 2012 legislation contained what’s known as a “sunset provision,” which gave it an expiration date of July 1, 2015. Malloy’s proposal would make the higher court filing fees a permanent source of revenue for legal aid agencies.
The bill would increase legal aid funding statewide by an estimated $1.6 million in fiscal year 2015, and boost funding by $6.3 million in fiscal year 2016. Overall, the percentage of higher filing fees that would go to legal aid agencies would increase from 70 percent to 95 percent. The Judicial Branch would get the remaining 5 percent to use on technology improvements.
If the higher court fees are not continued, said Malloy, state legal aid agencies could have to cuts staffs by a total of 35 people.
Officials with the Connecticut Bar Association and Judicial Branch have both expressed support for the measure.
“Funding for legal services has suffered greatly since the financial collapse of 2008, while at the same time the need for legal services has grown significantly,” said Peter Arakas, president of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, which raises money for legal aid and distributes the funding from the state. “Malloy’s plan increases funding for legal services, while also removing the looming shadow of the sunset of a major funding source.”