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

  • Mon Jun 1st, 2020 1:40pm
  • News

Submitted by San Juan County Courts

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

Over the past few years, the Washington Supreme Court and 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 have been reduced, and new statutes also allow outstanding debts to be reconsidered and reduced, depending on the individual’s financial status.

“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 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, 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 visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/947/Legal-Financial-Obligation-Forms.