Be prepared to pony up for court records.
When the Journal
went into the court records office last week, an employee warned, somewhat admonishingly, that asking for a criminal case file without a case number would cost $15 in the future. "That's new," we thought. For years, court records employees have seemed happy to look up a case file by name — typically a quick process. It turns out that clerk didn't have it exactly right (and neither did we), but enforcement of court records fees is indeed likely to become more strict.
As Court Executive Officer Kerri Keenan explained, the fees have been on the books for almost 10 years — the most recent fee schedule, detailing the costs of all the services court records can provide, was updated in January and is available here
Keenan’s worked in courts — Fresno County, before Humboldt — for 20 years. “There has always been a search fee — always.” It appears, at last week’s visit, that the clerk was referring to the $15 fee applied to “Searching records or files, for each search longer than 10 minutes.” (Fee number 184 on the fee schedule.) That’s for criminal or civil case files.
“I don’t think we've been executing the statute the way we should be,” Keenan said, adding that the court’s in the “early stages” of talking about how they will better implement the court fees.
For example, Keenan said, the court hasn't been charging people who request old files, which are kept in an off-site storage facility that the county pays to maintain.
“It’s not for profit,” Keenan said. “We’re just passing on the cost it takes us to do additional work. It’s somewhat sad, I suppose, that we can’t just do that for free anymore. With our reduction to the branch, that’s just the way it is.”
If you’re worried about getting charged for a records search, you can head up to the courthouse’s two public access rooms on the second floor. There, you can look up case numbers and view some documents — but not all — online. And take a look at the court’s fee schedule
, which shows what you (might) be charged for documents and record requests.