Creditor Courts

55 Pages Posted: 25 May 2023

See all articles by Alexander Billy

Alexander Billy

Ankura Consulting, LLC; Free Our Vote

Neel U. Sukhatme

Georgetown University Law Center; Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy

Date Written: May 22, 2023


One of the largest institutional creditors in the United States is perhaps the most unexpected: the criminal court system. Each year, creditor courts collect more than $15 billion in revenues from criminal defendants. These fees are the lifeblood of the modern criminal legal system.

In this Article, we shed new light on the legal and economic framework under which myriad stakeholders operate in these creditor courts. By analyzing new survey data from clerks of court and 102 contracts with debt collection agencies in Florida, we provide general insights how creditor courts distort incentives and teem with conflicts of interest. These inefficiencies regularly disrupt the financial stability of the judiciary as well as the lives of the largely indigent criminal defendants who remain indebted to this system.

As we show, legislators, clerks of court, and the judiciary writ large subject criminal defendants to unconstrained coercion through the use of so-called “user fees.” Leveraging campaign finance data and publicly available litigation material, we also find suggestive evidence of possible quid pro quo rewards between collection agencies assigned to collect debt on behalf of courts and the clerks of court tasked with administering them. We argue that state constitutional reforms that eliminate creditor courts and mandate courts be funded from general state revenues are the only meaningful ways to permanently redress the social costs generated by criminal monetary sanctions.

Keywords: Criminal Courts, Legal Financial Obligations, Court Financing, Criminal Debt, Criminal Court, Political Economy, Public Choice, Disenfranchisement, Constitutional Law

JEL Classification: K14, D72, K40

Suggested Citation

Billy, Alexander and Sukhatme, Neel U., Creditor Courts (May 22, 2023). Ohio State Law Journal, Forthcoming , Available at SSRN:

Alexander Billy (Contact Author)

Ankura Consulting, LLC ( email )

New York, NY
United States
7246894413 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

Free Our Vote ( email )


Neel U. Sukhatme

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy ( email )

Old North, Suite 100
37th & O Streets NW
Washington, DC 20057
United States

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