County in Michigan removes free court record searches
An April 1 decision to remove two public computer terminals is coming under fire by residents, attorneys and private investigators.
The terminals were removed to make room to process concealed weapons permits, reports the Muskegon Chronicle. Officials for the county point out that people can search the court records both online and in the clerk offices. Opponents, however, note that both options require a person to pay for access to the search.
Private investigator Karen Harvey says the loss of the public terminals has impacted her business already.
Harvey said she has been searching Muskegon County criminal and civil records since 1996. As a private investigator, she accesses circuit court records for pre-employment background screenings, bonding purposes and landlord-tenant matters, among others.
Harvey said companies need to be aware that private investigators are finding it more difficult to perform background checks. She said she is considering legal action.
“They are jeopardizing workplace safety,” Harvey said. “We just can’t do our jobs thoroughly enough anymore.”
Courts are allowed under the Freedom of Information Act to charge reasonable fees for providing access to public documents, as well as for searching for those documents. However, the courts in Michigan tend to charge significantly more in fees than most public bodies. The courts have set fees for copying court files — usually a dollar per page. That can lead to hefty fees to access court files.