DOJ letter will have no impact on CCJ/COSCA policies on fines, fees, and bail practices

Dear CCJ/COSCA:

On December 21, 2017, Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, issued a Press Release rescinding a number of guidance documents issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) across a variety of subjects over an extended period of time.  Among these was the “Dear Colleague” letter on enforcement of fines and fees originally issued in March 2016.  

The Attorney General’s action seems to be a recognition that the Department’s prior practice of substantive regulation via such guidance documents was inappropriately informal and inconsistent with the process Congress and the Executive Branch have envisioned.  We do not believe this necessarily signals a change in federal policy on the subject of fines, fees and bail.

In any event, rescinding the “Dear Colleague” letter has no impact whatsoever on policies approved by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA).  As you know, at the time that the “Dear Colleague” letter was released, CCJ and COSCA had already formed the National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices, and the Task Force was actively working on the problems identified with a variety of practices involving the levying of fines, assessment of fees, and awarding of bail.  Since then, we have made – and continue to make – significant progress in identifying problems and proposing solutions for implementation by state and local courts.  State courts – along with judges, administrators, and court personnel – should rest assured that this work continues unabated and unaffected by the recent DOJ action. 

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Laurie Dudgeon
Co-chairs, National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices