Q: The clerks at the civil desk at Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield have begun charging $15 to retrieve a court file for review by the public, including the media. Why is that? When were the fees put in place? Are there such fees at other Kern County court counters (felony, misdemeanor)? Are there exceptions for the indigent?
-- Californian reporters and editors
A: The fees for file searches actually were authorized by state legislation in July 2005, said Terry McNally, court executive officer for Kern County Superior Court. When Kern County court officials began reviewing their procedures a few months ago, he said, they found disparities in how the fee was being imposed throughout the county.
For example, McNally said, the fees were being charged in Shafter but not Bakersfield.
The review was prompted by a marked increase in requests to see files from big commercial venders asking for large volumes of cases to do background checks, recover legal judgments and conduct other business, he said.
That review is still under way. McNally said he's researching the intent of the Legislature when it approved the fees and the workload of county staffers to determine how to consistently apply the fee.
For example, is the $15 per search or $15 per case file? McNally still isn't sure.
In the meantime, he said, disparities throughout Kern courts probably will continue. But he hopes to complete his review in the next few weeks and get to consistent implementation.
While there are exemptions from some court fees charged in California -- such as for indigent people who can prove an inability to pay -- McNally said he can't find any that pertain to the search fee.
He also said he hasn't heard many complaints about the fee from people who access the courts. McNally said he thinks people understand the court's in a tough spot with increased demand for service at a time of budget cutbacks.
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