A push endorsed by the state’s high court and the State Court Administrative Office to start charging for electronic access to court records, at least at the probate level, was blocked in the state Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon, Tuesday, May 21.
The chair of the State Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Rick Jones (R-24th District) said late Tuesday that the two bills, HB 4064 and 4532, are stalled unless substantial changes are made. The bills passed the state House of Representatives earlier.
The courts in Michigan and national have historically been the most open and accessible branch of government. The push to start charging for electronic access appears to be driven, in part, by a legitimate needs for standardization of practices across Michigan judicial districts and to help fund the digitization of court files.
However, the bills, as written, would have charged citizens and journalists for record access. Fess would be set by the state Supreme Court. The bill even included the unusual provision that courts could not charge other courts for records–as long as there was a written agreement in place. “…A court may provided enhanced access to another court or to a public agency in accordance with a written agreement…no fees may be charged…” Historically and logically, higher courts need access to records of lower proceedings.
The federal courts do charge for electronic access under the PACER system but the cost is a modest 10 cents per page up to a maximum charge of $3, and parties to cases get one free access for the initial filings and any subsequent filings. Users have an automatic $15/quarterly credit for searches. No fee is charged for access to judicial opinions or viewing records in person at the physical court.
The two bills under consideration today did not specifically address these important issues instead they deferred to the state supreme court and its rules to establish charges.