San Juan County Courts offer new process for reducing court-ordered debts

  • Sun Jun 7th, 2020 1:30am
  • News

Submitted by San Juan County Courts.

For those who have court-ordered fines and fees, San Juan County District Court and Superior Court are offering a new, easier way to ask the courts to reduce or forgive your debts – and many people qualify for relief.

Over the past few years, the Washington Supreme Court and our state legislature have greatly changed the way court fines and fees (known as “legal financial obligations”) are imposed. The overall fines and fees being imposed now have been reduced, and new statutes also allow outstanding fines and fees to be reconsidered and reduced, depending on the individual’s financial status. Many former defendants are now eligible to have a significant portion of their legal financial obligations reduced or forgiven.

“The Washington Supreme Court has been really clear that judges need to consider the defendant’s financial situation before ordering them to pay fines,” said District Court Judge Carolyn Jewett. “We have to tailor it to the individual, and think about what they can realistically pay.”

Court debts that go unpaid can impact credit, which can impact the person’s ability to keep their housing, job, or driver’s license. Because of this significant impact, many fines that were required by statute are now eligible to be reduced if the person cannot afford to pay, and interest that has accrued can be forgiven.

In order to get this relief, however, the individual has to apply to the court and ask the judge to reduce their fines.

“Many people don’t know how to apply or what information to provide,” said Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring. “We needed to come up with a streamlined way for people to apply. Judge Jewett and I started working on this issue long before the pandemic started, but it’s more critical than ever now that so many people in our community are struggling financially.”

The judges and their staff worked with the prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, public defender screener, clerk’s office, and others to develop forms that defendants can understand and file without legal representation.

Now, the new form called a “Motion To Reduce Or Waive Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) And Declaration” is available online, along with a detailed instruction packet that explains how to apply. You can download and submit the application electronically at https://www.sanjuanco.com/947/Legal-Financial-Obligation-Forms. If you don’t have internet access, you can call District or Superior Court and ask for a hard copy of the form to be mailed to you; you can mail in the completed application or drop it off in the courthouse drop boxes.

After filing your request, the judges will consider the requests and mail or email you their decision.

For more information on the application, contact either the District Court at (360) 378-4017, Superior Court Administration at (360) 378-2399, or the Superior Court Clerk’s Office at (360)378-2163; or go to the website at https://www.sanjuanco.com/947/Legal-Financial-Obligation-Forms.