Court clerks may charge up to $1 for the first page and 50 cents for each subsequent page for copies of any “instrument of record or on file”
County court clerks may charge more than the 25-cent limit for uncertified copies set by the Oklahoma Open Records Act, according to a recent attorney general opinion.
Instead, court clerks may charge up to $1 for the first page and 50 cents for each subsequent page for copying any “instrument of record or on file” as allowed by another state statute, according to the written opinion released Oct 7. (2009 OK AG 27)
“Both [statutes] address many of the same records to be copied, such as a divorce decree or a petition in a civil lawsuit,” the opinion noted. (¶ 8)
However, court clerks should follow the statute setting the fee schedule for court records because it “prescribes fees in specific circumstances applicable to a specific official” and was amended more recently than the Open Records Act to reflect the Legislature’s intent regarding the fees, reasoned Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the opinion.
The opinion was in response to a question posed by state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid.
“Whether a court clerk may follow the fee schedule set out in the ‘Fees of Court Clerks’ statute at [OKLA. STAT. tit. 28, § 31] or must follow the ORA, has not been directly answered in an Attorney General Opinion or court decision,” wrote Edmondson. “Thus we address it today for guidance not only to court clerks but to other public officials.”
The Open Records Act states, “Notwithstanding any state or local provision to the contrary, in no instance shall the record copying fee exceed twenty-five cents ($0.25) per page . . . .” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.5(3))
The statute setting the court fees states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the clerk of the district court, or the clerk of any other court of record, shall charge and collect the following fees for services by them respectively rendered and none others, except as otherwise provided by law: Making copy of an instrument of record or on file, first page $1.00 … subsequent pages (each)."
“Thus, we are faced with two statutes, both of which purport to make their provisions applicable in spite of any other law,” wrote Edmondson. “Which controls? (2009 OK AG 27, ¶ 3)
“If a conflict exists, as one does here, the two principles of statutory construction ... apply. Generally, a specific statute controls over a general statute. An amendment to a statute enacted later in time controls over an earlier conflicting statute.” (Id. at ¶9)
Legislators amended the Open Records Act in 1992 “to provide that the $0.25 limitation applies "[n]otwithstanding any state or local provision to the contrary." (Id. at ¶ 6)
One year later, the statute regarding court clerk fees was amended to include the limitation "[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law.” (Id. at ¶ 7)
The opinion applies only to fees that may be charged for copies of instruments of record or on file. For other public records a court clerk could be asked to copy, “the fees charged are subject to the Open Records Act." (Id. at ¶ 13)
“Whether a document is 'an instrument of record or on file' is a question of fact that cannot be answered in an Attorney General's Opinion.” (Id.)
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Journalism