Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: April 25, 2000

Seal of the Unified Court System
Court System Targets Delinquency in Payment of Court Fines; Proposes Collected Monies Go Toward Increasing Assigned Counsel Rates
NEW YORK - Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman today announced the start of a Statewide program that uses a private collection agency to collect millions of dollars of unpaid court fines and surcharges each year.

The court system proposes that a portion of the monies collected - consisting of fines and surcharges owed to the State and local governments as a result of convictions in criminal cases, including traffic infractions in some parts of the State - be used to help fund an increase in assigned counsel rates. New York's assigned counsel rates ($40 an hour for in-court work and $25 an hour for out-of-court work) - unchanged since 1986 - are the among the lowest in the country.

Chief Judge Kaye said, "When court fines go uncollected, not only are the State and localities deprived of substantial revenue, but also offenders are not held accountable for breaking the law. While experience has shown that governmental institutions are not equipped to function successfully as collection agencies, government can put into place effective mechanisms to collect monies due. To this end, the court system has contracted with a private firm to collect criminal fines and surcharges in six pilot locations throughout the State. We propose that a portion of the monies recovered be dedicated to increasing the State's assigned counsel rates, which are plainly inadequate. With the Legislature's support, the revenue brought in by this new program can be tapped to ease the fiscal burden of raising assigned counsel fees."

Judge Lippman noted, "Assigned counsel rates in New York are completely out of step with today's economic realities, and consequently we are seeing a mass exodus of lawyers from the assigned counsel panels. This has led to a crisis situation in the courts, with dire repercussions for the processing of Criminal and Family Court matters. What more appropriate use of monies recovered from delinquent offenders than to funnel them into increasing assigned counsel rates in New York. Thus, we ensure equal access to justice for all New Yorkers, as well as increase the accountability of those who attempt to ignore judgments of the court."

The program will begin in six locations: Rochester City Court, Queens Supreme Court, Suffolk District and County Courts, Nassau District Court and New York City Criminal Court. Within a three-year period, these courts were found to have over 480,000 delinquent judgments, totaling millions of dollars in fines and surcharges.

Mandatory surcharges are imposed in all criminal and traffic convictions, with amounts ranging up to $150. In addition, fines can be imposed as part of a sentence in such cases.

OSI (Outsourcing Solutions, Inc.), a debt collection company, was selected after the court system issued a request for proposals last year.