Legal Financial Obligations

This work is focused on developing a Legal Financial Obligation (LFO) Calculator that will be a resource tool for judges to use in the 39 district courts around Washington State to improve their process of assessing fees and fines in the court. There are currently about 300 different fines and fees that a judge has the authority to issue in any given case. Many judges have a formula or recipe for assessing such penalties depending on what type of case it is. Some are required, some can be removed depending on the situation, and some are discretionary. For a judge to be able to make all of those decisions in a reasonable amount of time is difficult, all while trying to understand a person’s ability to pay and what the payment schedule looks like in aggregate. By providing a better calculator tool, the intention of this project is to provide a better view into what penalty they are imposing in their judgement.

In the near term, data is being gathered on fees and fines assessed throughout districts over the last several years. Data modeling work will be done in order to understand the current LFO landscape, the variation between districts across the state and around the country (with work by Measures for Justice). Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu aims to provide a recommended best practice for each district, along with this tool to improve judges’ ability to assess fines and fees that they feel are representative of the offense.

Additional Information:

The LFO Calculator is being developed in collaboration with WA State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu. Research is led by Graham Thompson, Seattle Civic Tech Manager, Microsoft, RC Carter, Product Development, Microsoft and Kivan Polimis, UW Sociology.