By Ed White, Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments about whether court costs ordered by local judges are an illegal tax against those convicted of crimes.

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It’s a question worth tens of millions of dollars in courts up and down the state.

Under Michigan law, anyone convicted of a crime can be ordered to pay for a portion of a court’s operating expenses. The state Supreme Court said Friday that it is looking at the case of Shawn Cameron, who was told to pay $1,611 in Washtenaw County on top of other fees after an assault conviction.

The case comes at a critical time. A state commission has until the fall of 2019 to come up with recommendations about long-term ways to fund the court system. That work could be influenced by a decision by the state’s top court.

Critics say court costs are an illegal tax because the amounts are determined by local courts, not the Legislature. They also say it puts a disproportionate burden on poor people who commit crimes.

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In Cameron’s case, the state appeals court agreed with the tax label but said the law is constitutional.

In 2016, courts statewide collected $38 million, much of it in Michigan’s District Courts, which handle misdemeanors. Berrien County’s 5th District Court collected $1 million, trailing only Oakland County’s 52nd District Court at $2.3 million, according to reports filed with the State Court Administrative Office.

Circuit Courts, which handle felonies, also order court costs.

“This is an issue of significant importance to the state. … Criminal defendants are not a special class of citizens who must bear the expenses of government by means of a higher tax imposed on them alone,” said Cameron’s lawyer, Marilena David-Martin.

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