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Legal Matters: Circuit Court to implement revised fee schedule

It will cost more to file motions in Circuit Court cases starting Dec. 1, but the good news is that the current fee that applies to opening many cases will remain at $80 plus a $55 surcharge for Maryland Legal Services Corp. The MLSC gives grants to services such as the Legal Aid Bureau that provide legal services in civil cases to low-income people. Legal assistance to the needy in criminal cases is provided by the Public Defender's Office.

The new fee schedule levies a $25 charge for motions filed in an open case. The fee will apply to motions to hold someone in contempt of court or to modify alimony, child custody, support or visitation. The fee will apply, for example, if Mom is paying child support although it has not yet been ordered as part of a divorce judgment, and Dad files a motion to increase the support because he has learned she got a $10,000 raise.

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Low-income individuals may ask for exemption from the fees by filing a request for waiver of fees. They will be required to disclose financial information to obtain a waiver.

The revised fee schedule sets charges for all copies at 50 cents per page, regardless of who makes them. Under current rules, the fee is 25 cents per page if the customer makes copies or the clerk makes them as a reasonable accommodation, 50 cents if the clerk makes them under other circumstances.

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Rules for citations, arrests

A question that arose after a recent column on ordinances that prohibit blowing or mowing grass clippings onto public streets: If you see someone doing that, why can't you just call the police and have him cited for violating the town or county ordinance?

Short answer: rules. The rules that police are required to follow protect the innocent — an officer can't legally haul you off to jail just because he doesn't like your face. The rules may sometimes also protect the guilty.

Suppose that although you are tired of having to walk over the clippings or leaves he blows into the street, you are unwilling to fill out a complaint against the neighbor. You saw him violate the ordinance, but you fear he might be the kind of guy who will put your lawn chairs on your roof, or worse, if you cross him.

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You tell the officer that you will not file a complaint. Now, what basis does the officer have for issuing a citation? The officer cannot issue the citation on his own authority, because he did not witness the violation. If the neighbor appeals the citation, the officer cannot go into court and testify that you told him the neighbor blew the leaves onto the street. That would be hearsay, a statement made outside of court, not under oath and not under circumstances that would allow the neighbor's lawyer to cross-examine you to test the accuracy of your statement.

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Reach her with questions or feedback at 410-840-2354 or denglelaw@gmail.com. Her column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times.

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