BOISE - Idaho should consider raising its marriage license fee by $20 to help provide legal counsel in civil cases involving children and families, the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court told lawmakers today.
“Many of the people involved in civil cases cannot afford legal counsel,” said Justice Daniel Eismann in his annual “State of the Judiciary” address to the Idaho House. Though the state provides court assistance, including forms, and collaborates with Idaho Legal Aid Services, it’s not enough, Eismann said.
“Court assistance offices and online interactive forms are not an effective replacement for legal counsel in many domestic relations cases, especially those involving children.”
He said a possible solution would be to increase the cost of an Idaho marriage license by $20, “which would generate about $280,000 a year that could be used to provide legal assistance in civil cases involving children and families.”
Eismann’s suggestion came as he detailed how Idaho’s court system has operated through a severe state budget crunch.
“In spite of the challenges resulting from the economic downturn, the judiciary is still fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to the people,” he told lawmakers. That’s in part because of the emergency surcharge on all infractions, misdemeanors and felonies lawmakers enacted last year to help the courts stay open through the budget crunch.
“One of our judges did his part by receiving a traffic ticket the first day the surcharge went into effect,” Eismann said.
Idaho’s courts have successfully made use of special problem-solving courts, Eismann said, including domestic violence courts, drug and mental health courts, DUI courts and child protection courts; some have been partly funded by grants.
Eismann said he’s working to start a new veterans’ court in Ada County, “to deal more effectively with veterans struggling with substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other mental health issues.”