The Democrat-Gazette today reported on potential legislation to cap personal fees that some county clerks are reaping from holding sales of foreclosed property. In the avalanche of foreclosures, some — such as the clerks in Washington and Benton counties — are making fortunes, $100,000 in a year in one case, from performing the work they were elected to perform. Please note that the Pulaski county clerk's office, according to the article, does not take a personal fee for holding the sales.
This is a good occasion to talk about another windfall from foreclosures. Foreclosure lawyers are spending millions annually to advertise these sales in Arkansas newspapers, another cost to a creditor and of limited public benefit. The public notices are required by law though the interest in the sales is generally limited to the mortgage holder. Why does this system continue? You may have heard that newspaper readership is falling and Internet usage is soaring. Why can't the notices be published for free on government websites? The end of print is coming sooner or later. It's time that the public notice procedure join the digital age.
It is a little paradoxical that, in supposedly serving the public interest with public notices, the law requires the public to pay to see them by purchasing a newspaper. You can guess which lobby shapes the law on legal advertising
And one more complaint about fees for public service: Increasing amounts of public records are now on-line for easy examination. This is wonderful. But some counties — that old money-grubbing Washington County, for one — are requiring fees to view documents on-line. These are documents that are free to view at the courthouses. A single document can cost $4 to view on-line in some counties; some counties charge $130 a month for unlimited access. What's the rationale for charging for Internet access and not for courthouse access? It's unfair. Again, note, that access to Pulaski County records is not subject to a user fee. Thanks, again, Pat O'Brien.
Louie: You have the floor.