The Potluck

Want court documents? It will cost you, and now lawmakers want to stop it

By: - April 12, 2022 2:46 pm

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

State lawmakers appear poised to stop the Minnesota judicial branch’s plan to begin charging people $8 per document for court papers obtained online. 

Both the House and Senate have bills with language that would eliminate the planned fees for Minnesota Court Records Online. 

The state judicial branch launched online access to district court case records in March 2021, and more than 3 million documents have been downloaded for free since then. But later this year, the judicial branch plans to begin charging $8 per document for anything beyond the first page — the same fee if people get the document at a courthouse. 

News reporters and independent journalists have expressed concern about the fees because they routinely use court records to keep the public informed. By comparison, federal courts charge 10 cents per page for online court documents.

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

Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, is one of several lawmakers who introduced bills to stop the fees (HF3041). Robbins said in a recent press release that Minnesotans have a right to access documents pertaining to their own cases, and the right to a transparent government. 

The Senate, House and governor must agree on all provisions in the public safety bill for it to become law, but bipartisan support is a key first step. 

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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.