HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Copying public documents in Connecticut courts can be an expensive proposition at $1 a page, a fee set by state law that is double what cities and towns can charge and quadruple the rate collected by state agencies.
While high-priced lawyers may not think twice about the fee, it can be a bank account drainer for the thousands of low-income people who use state courts, especially in civil and family cases where the files can run dozens if not hundreds of pages.
Open records advocates say high fees can be worrisome in terms of the public’s access to government.
“We wouldn’t want the fees to be so high that it discourages access or prevents access,” said Colleen Murphy, executive director and general counsel of the state Freedom of Information Commission. “Providing copies of public records shouldn’t necessarily be a source of revenue for government.”
But that appears to be the case in Connecticut.
The copying fee was increased from 50 cents to $1 a page in 1992 as part of a massive fee increase bill approved by state lawmakers and then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. that raised about $15 million during a budget crisis.
And the Judicial Branch doesn’t get to keep any of the $300,000 a year or so that it collects from the fee. The money goes straight into the state’s general fund.
In comparison, state law allows municipalities to charge up to 50 cents a page and state agencies 25 cents a page. Many other states have higher fees for court documents than those for records kept by state and municipal agencies.
“If you look at what it costs commercially to get a copy of something, maybe it’s 1 or 2 cents to copy per page,” Murphy said. “That’s the argument — that it really doesn’t cost that much to produce a paper copy.”
In 1994, two years after the court copying fee was increased, lawmakers and the governor approved a bill that decreased copying costs for state agency records from 50 cents to 25 cents a page, saying copying costs were too high. But they didn’t change the court fees.
Connecticut chief court administrator, Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, said state law does allow judges to waive copying fees, but only for people receiving public assistance or earning 125 percent or less of the federal poverty level — which is $24,250 a year for a family of four.
People can also look at records for free in courthouses, and many documents are available online at no charge.
“We have worked hard over the years to increase access to court documents by making more documents available online,” Carroll said. “Individuals may also bring in a hand held scanner to scan documents, without being charged the copy fee.”
Some of the most expensive copying fees in the state are for transcripts of court proceedings. Court reporters and monitors, who already are on the state payroll, can charge $3 a page for standard requests and up to $6.35 a page for transcripts requested to be ready the next business day after a proceeding.