Friday, March 15, 2013

Is Pay-Per-View Coming to a Courthouse Near You?

Have you ever had the occasion to go over to the County Courthouse to look at a file? If the State Administrative Office of the Courts gets its way, it will soon cost you ten bucks a pop to do so. And the fee will apply to nearly everyone who wants to look at any court file, including journalists and yes, (gulp) bloggers.

In other words, the courts are about to go "pay-per-view." That's an outrage! Court records are public records and, subject to a few exceptions, are open to anyone to look at. Bear in mind, the $10 charge isn't to copy a file (the courts have always charged what has heretofore been a small per page fee to do that). This is for the privilege of merely inspecting a court file.

As reported in the Courthouse News Service, "The new $10 fee would be assessed for every file or other "information" that is asked for." "Other information?" Sounds like merely asking the clerk behind the counter where the restroom is located could turn out to be an expensive proposition.

The only exception to the $10 charge would be for a person who is a party to the case where a file is requested.

Many of you out there may be saying to yourselves, "well I seldom ever need to go down to the courthouse to look at a file." That may be true. But I'll bet you might have a favorite blogger or news reporter who from time-to-time needs to look at court files and records. I often went down to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to look at files when I was blogging about the News-Press Mess, Rob Lowe's nanny suing him or the lawsuit over ownership of The Independent. The revenue from blogging (when there is revenue) would never justify that kind of expense on my part.

I know the courts are strapped for cash and this $10 pay per view scheme seems as though it could be a potential revenue source. But how much revenue can you raise when the cost to simply request a file is prohibitive? Individuals and news gathering organizations (which would be likely to request to see large numbers of files over the course of time) will simply stop asking to see files and that anticipated revenue will never materialize.

Pay-per-view may be okay for cable TV, but not for the local courthouse.