By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
Some Colorado journalists were surprised and disappointed in early January to see that the fee for a statewide search on CoCourts.com had jumped from $7 to $10.
Reporters use the online service to follow criminal court cases and to background story subjects, particularly candidates for public office. CoCourts provides the register of actions — basic information about a case, scheduled hearings, and a list of filed documents — but not court documents themselves. Those must be obtained directly from the courts.
“It’s a great way to cast a wide net, and it can point our investigations in different directions,” said David Gilbert, who covers Littleton and Arapahoe County for Colorado Community Media newspapers. He used CoCourts extensively, for instance, to report award-winning stories on a man with a pattern of falsely confessing to crimes.
The recent price increase was so alarming, Gilbert tweeted about it on consecutive days.
“As a small news operation going through tough times, we are under the expectation to keep our costs down,” Gilbert told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “If you run three searches while researching a story, that’s gone from 21 bucks to 30. You multiply that across our organization over the course of a month, it starts adding up pretty fast and it eats into our budget for those kinds of things.”
CoCourts is described on its website as “an initiative of the Colorado Judicial Branch to help citizens make better choices.” But the site is run by a vendor, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, and the judicial department was not involved in any decision to increase the cost of searches, said department spokesman Jon Sarché.
Marcy Theobald, director of media and analyst relations for LexisNexis Risk Solutions, told CFOIC the company raised the price for a statewide search after Denver County Court increased the fees it charges vendors to access its court data. The price of a search that excludes Denver County Court stayed at $5 while the price of a Denver County Court search went from $2 to $5. As a result, a combo or statewide search jumped to $10. (The CoCourts website notes that the price may be reduced depending on the volume of searches a user performs.)
“We pay the Denver County Court and Colorado Judicial fees to access their data, therefore our price reflects these increased costs,” Theobald wrote in an email. This is the first time CoCourts has increased search fees, she added.
Kristin Wood, court executive for Denver County Court, confirmed the increase in charges to third-party vendors, telling CFOIC the fees approximate the direct and indirect costs of equipment and staff time.
“The Court, for the first time ever, increased these fees in order to sustain the infrastructure and IT costs necessary to provide online access,” she wrote in an email. It’s still free, Wood added, to search the Denver County Court’s docket website by case number.
(It’s also free, at least for the time being, to search civil court cases filed anywhere in Colorado and to download the records. But you must apply for access once a month.)
Gilbert said he nearly always runs statewide searches that include Denver County Court so he doesn’t miss something. The price increase “will have a chilling effect” on how some journalists use CoCourts, he predicted. “It will make us question whether or not we need to run as many searches.”
Another vendor, Background Information Services, operates Check Colorado, which charges $15 for a statewide criminal courts search that includes Denver County Court.
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