Primarily because of the economy mess, more and more courts are starting to charge fees to search for party names, and to view or download documents.
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
Some courts, for example in Los Angeles, California, have been charging hefty fees (E.g., $4.75 for each party name search, and even more to see any documents), as per their own California Rule of Court 2.506, and Government Code Section 68150(h).
Having to pay fees to gain access to civil court documents is not new, however so far; most have free party name searches, and only charge you if you want to actually view or download the documents.
At the time of this writing, Los Angeles, CA seems to be the most expensive, and is one of the few civil court sites where one cannot look up a party name on the court’s website for free. The Los Angeles Recorder now charges 50 cents per name search.
Most people agree that paying a fee just to look up a party name and not see any documents is not fair. Some people even think paying anything to print or download PDFs of documents is not fair either. Most court web sites require a credit card number on file, while some allow one to pay by check to recharge their account.
While nobody likes to pay anything, there are some benefits to paying fees to use and access public documents on civil court web sites: 1) It saves people lots of time, driving, and parking costs; which in big cities, can be very expensive. You can even work in your pajamas.
2) It is better to have to pay for civil court records online, than not be able to see any information at all on civil court web sites.
3) These fees may seem high, however they are probably needed to keep the court’s system operational. People do not have to use the court’s website, they instead can go into the courthouse and wait in line to use the court’s computers for free. If such fees help the courts stay open and provide necessary services, then fees are a better alternative than losing services.
4) Even if you do not use a civil court’s web site and go to the court in person, you must still pay for copies of any requested documents.
5) By using your credit card, it gives the court a tracking system to see who is requesting records. I do not know why that would be needed, I imagine the courts will say it is for identity protection and to preserve privacy.