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Court ruling could open San Joaquin County to lawsuit, group says

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Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 12:00 am

San Joaquin County has been put on notice that it could be sued after a ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen H. Sumner effectively voided the fees charged by Sacramento County Clerk-Recorder Craig Kramer for copies of documents on file in his office, according to a news release.

This includes deeds, mortgages, liens and environmental impact reports.

All governmental fees are limited to recovery of costs. The court rejected the county’s argument that the fees could be set to recover, among other things, a portion at least of all county overhead, including entertainment costs such as alcoholic beverages; the costs of idle facilities and idle capacity; donations and contributions; lobbying; meetings and conferences; club memberships, subscriptions and professional activity costs; and travel costs.

The recorder set the fees at $12 for the first page and $2 for each additional page, making the fee for a copy of a typical 16-page document $42, not including certification.

“These fees should be no more than 14 cents per page,” attorney Al Hodges, president of California Public Records Research, Inc., the petitioner in the case, said in a news release. “While the court’s ruling does not directly reset the amount of the fees, it puts us a couple of motions away from an injunction and a class-action judgment that is likely to be well into six figures.”

Hodges stated that the court’s ruling will open most California counties to challenges of their fees. His organization will work to enforce a number of voter-approved ballot measures that were intended to reduce the size and cost of local governments, and have given notice of intent to sue to 16 counties so far, he said.

San Joaquin County is among those to have received a notice of intent to sue, according to California Public Records Research.

A similar case is pending against Yolo County and has been set for trial.

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