The state Supreme Court said Friday it will impose a new fee on thousands of attorneys who work in Missouri in order to help fund legal aid for low-income residents in civil court cases.
The additional $30 annual fee is to be paid by all licensed attorneys starting in 2014 and is expected to generate at least $750,000.
The money will go toward Missouri’s legal services fund, which helps pay for attorneys to aid people in civil cases such as custody disputes, protective orders, home foreclosures and bankruptcy cases.
Missouri has four regional legal aid programs that provide services to people with incomes up to 125 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $14,363 for an individual or $29,438 for a family of four. About 900,000 Missourians are estimated to be in that income range, the court said.
As a result of federal cuts, funding for Missouri’s legal aid programs has declined by nearly 20 percent – or $1.2 million – during the past couple years, the Missouri Supreme Court said. At the same time, courts have seen a growth in the number of people qualifying for legal aid.
“There is a crisis in funding for these much-needed services today,” Chief Justice Mary Russell said in a written statement announcing the fee increase.
Missouri attorneys already pay a $20 annual fee through The Missouri Bar that is directed to legal services for the poor.
The state’s legal services fund also benefits from fees charged on the filing of civil and criminal cases – collecting $8 from filings in associate circuit court; $10 from circuit court filings; and $20 from case filings with the Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals.