Suing Now Costs More in Oregon

The cost of filing a lawsuit in Oregon went up this week.

The state Legislature passed the new fees last session to help avoid deeper cuts to the justice system.

The increases that took effect Thursday vary. Lawsuits that list one plaintiff and one defendant and seek less than $10,000 saw only a small increase to the filing fee, from $128 to $137.

But cases that seek hundreds of thousands of dollars with lengthy lists of plaintiffs or defendants are now much more expensive to file. For example, last month a Multnomah County condo construction suit listing more than 30 plaintiffs and defendants cost $189 to file. If the same suit had been filed now, it would top $13,000.

Extremely poor plaintiffs are eligible to have their filing fees waived, but the higher costs have some concerned that low- to middle-income Oregonians won’t be able to afford to sue when they are wronged. Kateri Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Oregon State Bar, said attorneys are worried about keeping “the doors of the justice system open to everyone.”

The new fees are expected to generate $40 million through June 30, 2011, when they are scheduled to sunset.

Judicial department spokesman Phil Lemman said the fees will make it possible to keep courthouses open five days a week and keep processing small claims, traffic tickets and landlord-tenant disputes at the current rate. The money also will help pay for public defenders.

Lemman noted the new fees still don’t cover the true costs of seeing a lawsuit to trial, where it may consume days of judge and staff time.

The approaching fee increase led many attorneys to head to the courthouse Wednesday. The Oregonian newspaper reported that attorneys filed 25 suits listing multiple parties in the 90 minutes before the Clackamas County courthouse closed.