The Minnesota Supreme Court has increased the annual lawyer registration fee by $100.
In an order issued yesterday, a sharply divided high court determined that a large portion of the increase, $75, will go to support the state’s public defense system, with the remainder going towards the funding of legal services for low-income Minnesotans. The increase is temporary, beginning with fees due Oct. 1, 2009, and expiring with fees due July 1, 2011.
Chief Judge Eric Magnuson, writing for the majority, said that the court was making the temporary fee increase “reluctantly” in response to the exceptional financial circumstances currently facing the courts and the state. The chief justice wrote that the fee increase falls within the court’s “inherent power to regulate the practice of law.”
Justice Paul Anderson concurred with the decision, but wrote separately to express his reluctance to fund the public defense system in this manner and express his disappointment that Gov. Pawlenty and the Legislature have failed to adequately fund a constitutional mandate by “appropriate means.”
Justice Alan Page dissented, contending that the court does not have the power to impose what is essentially a “tax” on lawyers to fund the public defense system. He also wrote that the decision to do so is “bad judicial policy.”
Justices Helen Meyer and Lorie Gildea also dissented.