$10 Public Court Record search fee defeated in California Legislature

trailer bill that would have severely limited press and public access to court documents has died in the California Legislature, after widespread editorial condemnation from the state’s newspapers. The defeated proposal was put forward by the Administrative Office of the Courts and would have resulted in a charge of $10 per file to look at court records. While court administrators pushed the fee as a way to raise revenue, freedom of information advocates said the proposal would in practice wall off the public record. The political and editorial fallout resulted in a self-inflicted wound for court bureaucrats, with legislators blasting the fee and those that proposed it. “Most agreed that it would be horrible public policy,” said Jim Ewert, General Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a group that lobbied fiercely against the proposal. In addition to affecting publishers, the proposed $10 fee on nearly every court record requested by members of the general public would have also negatively impacted court researchers who review a large amount of court files for background check companies, as well as licensed professional investigators. Precisely why the bill failed, reporters are unsure. However, freedom of information has been a suggested justification. “All I can speculate is that the Assembly wanted to protect every person’s ability to obtain this information very important information and not just the press,” said Ewert. Judges in the Alliance criticized the search fee as a “ham-handed” idea that was “apparently created in non-public meetings by unidentified AOC staff and others.” Legislators evidently heard those complaints.]]>

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