The Potluck

Court documents could get a lot more expensive 

By: - May 27, 2022 10:40 am

The Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Reporters, lawyers and the public may have to start paying a lot more for Minnesota court documents since state lawmakers didn’t pass a bill to block the fees, despite bipartisan support for doing so.

The Minnesota judicial branch has plans to begin charging $8 per document obtained through Minnesota Court Records Online or at courthouses. By comparison, federal courts charge 10 cents per page for online court documents.

Both the House and Senate had bills with language that would eliminate the fees, but the Legislature adjourned Sunday without taking action on most big funding bills, including a public safety bill that the provision was tucked into.

Blocking the fees had bipartisan support, with language prohibiting the fees in both the House and Senate judiciary bills. 

Spokesman Kyle Christopherson said the judicial branch is waiting to see if a special session will be called where this issue  could still be addressed by the Legislature.

“If that does not happen, we will evaluate our next steps regarding this fee and will share more information when that evaluation is complete,” he said.

The judicial branch launched online access to district court case records in March 2021, and millions of documents have been downloaded for free since then. 

News reporters and independent journalists have lobbied against the fees because they routinely use court records to keep the public informed. 

The Senate, House and governor must agree on all provisions in a bill for it to become law, so unless legislative leaders agree to a special session, the judicial branch will likely begin charging the fee when the MCRO system is finalized later this year. 

This story was updated to include a response from the judiciary branch. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.