Brother, can you spare $1,000?

In the age of ever-increasing price tags it can take a lot to cause sticker shock, but I got just that when I assisted a faculty member in requesting photocopies of a lengthy case file from a trial level court.  The final bill was just under $1000.  An amount that doesn’t crack top-ten lists for outrageously priced products, but not a small amount of money either.  Especially when you consider that court records like these are public record.

It begs the question, as part of the public record how publicly accessible are court records? Should “public record” in an increasingly digital world mean a trip to a court house door (possibly states away) or a photocopy bill in the triple (or more) digits?  Neither are easily answered, but both should be considered as we begin to assess the state of public access to primary sources of law and the materials that go in to making them.

A note: I know requests like this are commonplace for many librarians and researchers, but this was my first time getting to the nitty-gritty of requesting a whole case file and doing the math on its cost.  Everyone I spoke to at the court was extremely helpful and they were able to fulfill the request even more quickly than they initially forecasted.

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