In a move that is raising concern about limiting access to public documents, California courts could charge $10 for each record search under a proposal included in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget.
The governor included the search fee as one of the ways the courts can raise $30 million a year to offset budget cuts.
The judicial budget has been reduced by more than $1 billion through cuts and transfers over the past five fiscal years, which has resulted in fewer courtrooms, construction delays and an array of higher fees.
Media organizations and good-government advocates worry that such a fee would restrict access to files the public has a right to view. Democratic lawmakers also expressed distaste for restricting information to those who can afford it.
"Justice that suddenly comes with a big price tag so that not all newspaper reporters or members of the public may be able to get access to court records, for example, can mean justice denied," said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. "We know that, for instance, higher fees for investigative reporting could have prevented those young journalists decades ago who exposed the Watergate scandal."