Cash-strapped court charges $1 per page for access to online civil case records

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Beset by a state budget crisis, Alameda County, Calif., is adopting a new measure to boost its bottom line.

Those who wish to download civil court records online must pay $1 per page to view the first five pages of the document, although the charge drops to 50 cents per page for subsequent pages, the Oakland Tribune reports. The total charge to view any one document is capped at $40.

Leah Wilson, who serves as the court’s executive officer, says it needs the money to cover the cost of scanning and uploading the documents and to make up for cuts in state funding.

Similar charges are also imposed in Los Angeles County and Sacramento County, the newspaper says.

However, some advocacy groups are outraged by the charges, which took effect in Alameda County on April 23. They argue the fees effectively eliminate access to court documents for those who can’t afford to pay the new fees and present constitutional issues.

By contrast, the federal PACER document access system imposes fees of 10 cents per page for retrieving documents and caps the total per-document access fee at $3.

“While it is true that the courts have experienced very severe budget cutbacks, and they have to do everything they reasonably can to align their costs with their revenues, they have to do that in a way that doesn’t basically declare the court system to be completely off-limits to the people,” argues Peter Scheer of the First Amendment Coalition.

Wilson says the Alameda court will consider offering government and nonprofit groups free access to documents.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Court garage sale, case delays and long lines are result of California cost cuts”

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