David Dodd 1:48 a.m., May 18
San Diego Superior Court has embarked on a costly and controversial program to scan legal documents for online viewing, the Courthouse News Service reports.
The system, with a cost officially billed by the court at $7 million over 6 years, began in early October. By early November, most judges in the court system had been switched over to the new program.
At issue is the cost of the program, coming at a time when California courts face a budget crisis after state legislators cut funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. “San Diego probably doesn't really have sense of what this is going to cost them until they get into it,” said an unnamed manager at a private firm that provides court services. He went on to estimate that the eventual cost would more likely be close to $7 million annually, rather than the official estimate of just over $1 million per year, which includes $215,000 to hire five new clerks to run the imaging system.
“It's just not about buying the hardware and software,” the manager continued. “Costs only go up, they don't go down.”
Critics of the program also argue that in effect the court is implementing a policy of selling access to documents that are supposed to be made available to the public for free. The court used to maintain a media bin where members of the press and interested parties could come to view new cases after they’d been entered into the computer system, but that was eliminated earlier this month. Now, a large number of scanned images don’t become available until after 3:30 in the afternoon, after the court’s viewing rooms have closed. The only way to see a case on the first day it’s made available to the public is to pay the court’s online viewing fee, which ranges from $7.50 to $40 per file.