Minnesota’s judicial branch will begin charging for online access to public court documents later this year, a move that has been widely criticized by journalists throughout the state.
The courts began moving all records online in March 2021 under a new system called “Minnesota Court Records Online.” This allows the public to easily search for and download public court documents without having to physically go to a courthouse.
“The ability to access public documents online is important to the people we serve and helps build trust in our justice system,” Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said in a recent press release.
But that access will soon cost $8 per download, an “excessive” fee compared to the federal PACER system, Minnesota’s Crime Watch network told Alpha News.
The PACER system charges 10 cents per page and users don’t have to pay anything if they don’t exceed $30 in a quarter.
According to the state judicial branch, users will be able to preview the first pages of documents and will then “have the option of paying an access fee to view subsequent pages and download or print entire documents longer than one page.”
The online “access fee” will be the same price as in-person purchases, which cost $8 for multi-page documents.
Crime Watch said they download between 5-15 documents per day, which would cost up to $840 a week, or $43,680 a year, under the new system. That’s obviously not feasible, so independent outlets like Crime Watch will be shut out from online access to the records they depend on for their work.
“We get that there are maintenance costs, but $8 is excessive,” Crime Watch said.
Since its launch in March, more than two million documents have been downloaded through the Minnesota Court Records Online application. Assuming all documents are more than one page, that’s about $16 million in additional revenue for the state each year.