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Associated Press  

Lawsuit Debates County's Control of Public Record Access
Indiana Recorder's Association Faces Claims of Illegal Activity
Source of Title - reprinted with permission

2/7/2006

A group representing Indiana's 92 county recorders has proposed changes to a state law after receiving a complaint from a New Albany businessman that some of the fees being charged are illegal. On December 1, 2005, Christopher Mason of Southern Indiana Abstract Company filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. The Public Access Counselor handles questions concerning open-records matters.

According to Mason's complaints, there is no state law to support a $1-per-page fee for printouts of digital records, but he was forced to pay this in Clark County. These printouts currently comprise more than $80,000 in annual copying revenue. According to Indiana law, however, the fee can only be applied to documents produced by a "photographic process."

The county recorder of Clark County, Shirley Nolot, said the fee was temporarily suspended following validation by the state counselor on specific segments of Mason's complaint.

The Indiana Recorder's Association is taking the issue seriously although the opinion is only advisory. The association is working through a lobbyist to have the General Assembly pass legislation that would update the law that covers recorders' fees, according to Terri Rethlake, the vice president of the association.

Rethlake expressed that Mason is exploiting a "loophole" in the current law that could eventually put at risk hundreds of thousands of dollars in fee revenue collected statewide.

According to an article in The Courier-Journal, Rethlake stated that the association hopes to act quickly because of the potential for a lawsuit. She added that she was unaware of any other recorders in Indiana who have suspended their fees, but that almost all 92 counties have the same $1 policy for copies and printouts.

Others support the claim that Mason has brought against the county. Leah Poindexter, an owner of SouthEastern Indiana Title Company of Jeffersonville, said the fees charged by recorders are unfair because the money is used to subsidize government operations that are unrelated to the cost of the documents.

"The library is 10 cents a copy," Poindexter said. "Why am I paying for the salary of the employees up there, where I'm doing the work myself?"

Poindexter believes the county's existing ordinance seems to contradict the state law and that the law is too vague. Rethlake agreed and noted that the state law is outdated and should be improved. Senator Connie Lawson is currently working with the state association to change the fee law before the end of the current legislative session, according to Rethlake.

2005, Source of Title

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