In yet another example of why the Circuit Court Clerk’s office needs a general overhaul (see Stop & Desist order), the SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS issued an opinion dated January 20th which indicates that “rogue actions of the Lake County Circuit Clerk” are to blame for illegal court fees assessed against a Public defender defendant.
The opinion was the result of the case: The People of The State of Illinois vs. Elias Gutierrez, in which the defendant argued that several fines and fees had been improperly imposed. At issue is whether the appellate court properly remanded the cause for notice and a hearing on the defendant’s ability to pay a public defender fee when the circuit clerk, on its own, improperly imposed the fee. The defendant held that the fee should have been vacated outright. The appellate court allowed the defendant to supplement the record with a certified copy of a “Party Finance Summary Query” that detailed the fines and fees that had been imposed by the Lake County circuit clerk. One of these was a $250 public defender fee.
Another portion of the finding stated the following regarding the Lake County Circuit Court Clerks office:
In the present case, as well as in Schneider and Dalton, the fee was imposed by the Lake County circuit clerk. At oral argument, defense counsel represented that this is a particular problem in Lake County, with the circuit clerk routinely imposing the fee on its own. Even the State referred to the “rogue actions of the Lake County Circuit Clerk.”
We admonish the circuit clerks in general, and the Lake County circuit clerk in particular, that they may not impose public defender fees on their own. Pursuant to statute, a public defender fee may be imposed only by the circuit court after notice and a hearing on the defendant’s ability to pay. We again remind the trial courts of their duty to hold such a hearing before imposing these fees, and we trust that we will not have to speak on this issue again.