OPEN GOVERNMENT — Monterey County is being sued by a public information business for charging $2 per page for copies of certain property-related public records, reports the Monterey County Herald.

Attorneys for California
Public Records Research Inc. say state law allows local agencies to
charge only the actual costs of copying public records, including real
estate records maintained by county clerks.

In their class action lawsuit, filed Thursday in Monterey
County Superior Court, Clifton Hodges and Donald Ricketts maintain
those costs amount to no more than 10 cents per page.

But when they asked for copies of the county's fee schedule,
ordinances establishing the fees and any analyses done to determine
those costs, they were told the 186 related pages would cost $372, or
$2 a page.

The suit is part of a statewide survey and litigation effort described here.

Ricketts confirmed Monday that similar suits have been filed in
all of the state's 58 counties. They are, he said, precursors to a
larger effort to make real estate records as financially available to
the public as they are to title insurance companies, which receive the
information for "pennies per page."

"The client (in the lawsuit) is a Public Records Act research
group actively engaged in going out and getting records, and they're
simply tired of paying those fees," he said. "The recorder's office has
almost lost its way, its function, and become a conduit for title
insurance companies."

The lawsuit, which also alleges the Board of Supervisors
established the copy fees without a required public hearing, asks the
court to compel the county to turn over the requested 186 pages for no
more than 10 cents per page, an injunction prohibiting the county from
seeking excessive fees in the future and unspecified financial damages.

Although this dispute has been simmering for years, no one should be surprised if local agencies generally get creative in charging more for records copying.  One CalAware member reports that a Southern California agency is trying to collect from requesters the 44 cent postage used to send them written letters informing them their access requests are denied.