To: Alameda County Superior Court and Leah T. Wilson, Executive Officer

Ask the Alameda County Superior Court to Reduce its Exorbitant Online Search Costs

We call on Alameda County Superior Court Executive Officer Leah T. Wilson and fellow Court administrators to reduce the Court’s exorbitant new online search fees.

In support of those who cannot afford the high fees, attorneys may refuse to waive mail service of judicial orders until the Court corrects this affront to the poor.

In April 2014, the Court began charging the public to retrieve civil records online, costing an excessive $1.00/page for the first 5 pages, 50 cents/page thereafter, up to $40 per document. The Court charges $1.00 just to perform a party name search – another $1.00 to repeat the name search under a different spelling or on a different day. The system provides no means of selecting specific pages from a document, charging the same for covers, captions, tables, proofs of service, or blank pages. These charges vastly exceed those collected under the federal PACER system.

The Court’s flat fees fall heaviest on the poor. They raise serious constitutional concerns under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments (right to counsel, due process and access to justice), as well as red flags under the California Public Records Act., notwithstanding its vague sanction under Government Code § 68150 and California Rule of Court 2.506(a).

The new fees will or may have all of the following disparate impacts:
• Advantage represented parties over non-represented parties;
• Advantage law firms and well-to-do lawyers over sole practitioners and pro per litigants;
• Advantage exempt government parties over non-exempt civilian parties;
• Advantage corporate media over independent media and independent journalists;
• Undermine the dissemination of public information;
• Undermine settlements by increasing parties' costs; and
• Strain Court resources by causing more people to line up to search paper files, thereby burdening access by that means too.

Solutions include:
• Curbing the fees;
• Granting free access to one’s own case (litigants pay filing fees after all);
• Granting free or sliding scale access to the indigent including those with fee waivers on file;
• Granting free access to judicial orders;
• Eliminating the charge for a mere party name search;
• Charging only to print or save documents but not merely to view them;
• Enabling retrieval of less than a full document;
• Establishing a one time fee for ongoing access to an entire case file;
• Establishing an annual subscription service with added features enticing to those with the ability to pay.

The Court claims the fee-based system is necessary to recoup the costs of providing public records access. But this accounting skirts the fact that the Court scans documents for the benefit of Court staff too. The monetary cost of maintaining public records access pales compared to the social costs of burdening such access, a burden borne disproportionately by the poor, to say nothing of the damage this regime does to the public’s faith in the Court’s economic fairness.

Why is this important?

The Court's excessive new search fees burden public records access and fall disproportionately on the poor.