Monday, January 13, 2014

Admission is Free, but You Pay to Leave?

There have been conversations over the years as to the process of funding the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims. During the OJCC history, funding for this Office and the Division of Workers' Compensation has come from the Administrative Trust Fund. See section 440.50, Florida Statutes. The OJCC does not use any general revenue tax funds. Our entire budget comes from assessments on workers' compensation premiums. This is a self-sustaining system.

The Trust Fund proceeds are primarily collected as assessments on the premiums collected by insurance companies. The Fund also benefits when fines and penalties are collected. In the past, there have been those who suggested that filing fees in litigated cases would be an appropriate alternative to the assessment process. That idea has never generated much serious discussion. For the most part, the belief has been that the industry should support the adjudication process without imposing costs on the injured worker.

The South Carolina Commission issued a December 17, 2013 Advisory Notice regarding "Relief of Counsel," which is their equivalent for our withdrawal of counsel. Their new policy requires any attorney who seeks to withdraw from a case to file a motion. When the motion is filed, it must be accompanied by a $25.00 filing fee. 

This made me curious. How many withdrawal motions are filed each year in Florida? The answer is somewhat difficult to discern, but what we know is how many orders are uploaded approving such motions. The answer might surprise you, but it was about 2,605 last year. I thought that it would be higher than this. A withdrawal might be filed in any case, whether the currently pending petition was filed this year or last, or before. However, comparison of the withdrawal volume last year, 2,605, to the PFB filing volume last year, 56,298, yields about 5%.

If this withdrawal fee policy were implemented in Florida, the revenue might be as high as $65,125.00. I say "as high," because the South Carolina notice has an exception for those Relief motions which only change counsel between attorneys within the same firm. Only transfer "between two different law firms requires a motion, proposed order and filing fee." Some volume of the 2,605 may fall in this category in Florida, but that is impractical to determine. So, the figure that could generate filing fees would be lower. 

Such a fee collection would not be significant in terms of the Florida OJCC. It is interesting to observe how other jurisdictions contend with revenue issues. 

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