This post first published in our April 27 Morning Report. Subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

A settlement announced this week in a Northern California lawsuit over court fees could have ripple effects in San Diego.

The San Mateo Superior Court has agreed to stop charging late fees on tickets and suspend its debt collection efforts. The advocates argued the program — automated by a computer — constituted an illegal and regressive tax pushing low-income people further into poverty.

At least nine other superior courts in California have followed suit, and the state’s policymaking arm, the Judicial Council of California, rewrote its guidelines to give judges more discretion over late fees.

“Our litigation has made clear to trial courts that even they are not above the law,” Zal K. Shroff with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in the San Francisco Bay Area said in a statement.

Attention is now turning to San Diego, where the superior court pioneered the use of late fees — otherwise known as civil assessments — as a means of revenue generation and agreed to vacate nearly $200 million worth of debt after lawmakers slashed the maximum amount that courts can charge.  

Statewide advocates haven’t ruled out legal action here. Emily Cox, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Superior Court, told us in an email that San Diego follows the guidance from the Judicial Council regarding civil assessments and added: “San Diego does still collect civil assessments up to $100, with all collected money going to the State, not retained locally.”

Jesse Marx

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

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