MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin court officials who allow people to make copies of records with cellphone cameras and scanners shouldn’t charge them, according to a legal opinion Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen released Tuesday.
The opinion walks back Van Hollen’s previous stance that court officials are entitled to charge the $1.25 per page fee for copies made with personal technology. It comes as Van Hollen prepares to turn over his office to fellow Republican Brad Schimel on Monday after choosing not to seek a third term.
Van Hollen wrote in a 2012 letter that he believed the Walworth County clerk of court was justified in charging for copies of 20 pages of documents a newspaper reporter made with a camera phone. State Courts Director John Voelker asked Van Hollen for a formal opinion on fees in such cases later that year, noting that the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also wanted him to review his position.
Van Hollen wrote that state statutes don’t authorize collection of fees when a records requester makes copies without help from court officials. But he went on to say that court record custodians can choose the method of copying and don’t have to let requesters make their own copies. If the custodians prohibit it, they can assess fees.
“Accordingly, the custodian of court records may choose whether to allow someone to make his or her own copies with personal technology,” Van Hollen wrote. “If the decision is to allow a person to perform that copying unassisted, then the fees … do not apply.”
WFOIC President Bill Lueders said in an email to The Associated Press that he was pleased that Van Hollen decided clerks should let record requesters make their own copies for free. But allowing clerks to block people using their own equipment and forcing them to pay up is problematic, he said.
“I would hope that clerks of court would allow citizens to make copies using hand-held cameras, just as they may now look at court case files and copy information by hand,” he said.
Copying fees are a major source of income for clerks of court. According to Voelker’s request, they collected more than $815,000 in fees in 2011.
La Crosse County Clerk of Courts Pam Radtke, president of the Wisconsin Clerks of Circuit Court Association, didn’t immediately return a voicemail message early Tuesday afternoon.