A&A: How Can LA County Superior Court’s Website Charge a Non-Refundable Fee to Search the Database?

Q: lacourt.org, the website for the LA County Superior Court, charges a fee of $4.75 to conduct a name search of criminal case on its website. It is a non-refundable fee charged even if no results are found. This doesn’t seem to be reasonably accessible as required under Cal. Gov. Code. 68150. Has this ever been challenged to your knowledge? I see California Court Rule 2.506 which allows this fee also requires them to justify the cost if asked. I can’t see any justification for how a single search to simply link a name to a case number can cost $4.75, with further fees to see case summaries and no way to get actual documents other than in person. It seems like they may be overcharging based on the costs of maintaining records and supplying them for free to other government agencies. Has anyone ever requested statement of costs from the court. It seems particularly egregious to charge such a fee when the only other option to get documents has been cut off by Covid closures. Thanks for you time and thoughts on this matter.

A: Though there is a presumptive right of access to court records rooted in both the First Amendment and the common law (Courthouse News Service v. Planet, 750 F.3d 776, 785-87 (9th Cir. 2014)), to our knowledge no successful challenge to CRC 2.506 has yet been brought. You may wish to reach out to your elected representatives to draw their attention to CRC 2.506, which arguably increases the cost of access to documents which the public is entitled to see.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.