State court system records should be free on computer

Published 4:09 pm Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Alabama Administrative Office of Courts has made accessing court files, one case at a time, from a computer available to regular Joe and Josephine Citizen. But the access comes with a price.

The program is called “Just One Look” and that’s all a citizen gets for $9.99 per case in district or circuit court. If a person wants a copy of something filed, that costs another $5. If a person wants to keep up with a case, that costs another $19.99 for district cases and $29.99 for circuit cases.

This program was supposed to make access easier than the nearly $200 required by the court documents manager, On-Line Information Services Inc., to view cases and filings in those cases.

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In some ways, especially if someone wants to watch several cases, this might be another way of the private entity making money off taxpayers.

Sure, people could go to courthouses and ask a clerk to look up the information.

But records, even those on a computer, should be free to the public. The governmental body is not having to take workers to search for the documents; nobody is having to make a copy from a photocopy machine, using ink and paper.

We’re talking bits and bytes of data.

Alabama isn’t the only state charging people for public information about court cases. Other states — about 50 percent of them across the nation — practice the same process.

The practice doesn’t mean the process is proper.

These documents are public record. They should be made public without cost to Joe and Josephine Citizen.

It’s the right thing to do. - The Selma-Times Journal