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Senate, Assembly budget committees split over proposed court file fee

A proposal to impose a $10 fee for every court file requested by the public has been approved by a state Senate panel, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported today (May 29).

Proposed by the Judicial Council, the $10 fee is one of 17 items attached to a proposed state budget, called a “trailer bill.” The bills are heard concurrently when the Legislature takes up the state budget.

The Senate budget subcommittee heard the proposal on Thursday and proposed an amendment that would exempt the press from the fees. The subcommittee adopted it.

The Assembly’s budget subcommittee, however, rejected the idea of the fee altogether.

Now, the proposed fee goes to a conference budget committee where the differences between the Senate and Assembly versions are worked out.

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, opposes the fee, even with the amendment that would exempt the press. Ewert has been lobbying at the Capitol against the fee.

Ewert said that although he has not yet seen the language of the amendment, it would still affect the general public and some people such freelance journalists or members of syndicated news services.

Even with the exception, he said, the general public would be at a great disadvantage.

He said fees would hurt press coverage of the court system as some reporters need to pull files on a daily basis. He said a court reporter who requests nine court cases would be charged $90.

“Pretty soon, there would be less written about the courts and the public is going to be even more in the dark about one of the mysterious branches of government,” he said.

Judicial Council spokesman Peter Allen said that Gov. Jerry Brown decided to pursue 11 of the 17 proposals by council, including the $10 fee. The fee would generate about $6 million a year.

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