The Sonoma County Law Library is a state local government agency separate from the county government (much like fire or water districts). County government is required by statute to provide the Law Library space, utilities and maintenance. The Law Library is governed by its own Board of Trustees consisting of five judges, one representative of the Board of Supervisors and one representative of the Bar Association. Law Library operations are financed primarily by a portion of civil filing fees. The Library does not receive general fund (property tax) revenue. Filing fee revenue is declining statewide due to factors including in forma pauperism filings and an increase in alternative dispute resolution; in both situations, no filing fees are paid.
SCPLL is a public library operating pursuant to B&P Code 6300 et seq. County law libraries are mandated to provide public access to legal materials. Approximately half of library users are not attorneys. SCPLL is a vital resource; for many county residents the Law Library is the only means by which they can obtain legal information. As examples, we carry many books written for lay people on divorce and landlord-tenant, to help those in our community who do not have the resources to hire an attorney. Although, many library users don’t pay filing fees, either because they are involved in alternate dispute resolution, has filed fee waivers or they are in a legal situation for which the library receives no fees; services and reference material are available for all county members. As the county population and self-help legal movement has grown, usage of the Law Library has increased.
The funding mechanism of county law libraries worked well for 100 years but may now be obsolete. It was created when ADR did not exist, citizens rarely represented themselves in court, and only lawyers used law libraries. County law libraries do not receive revenue from criminal cases and most Small Claims filings, even though many people involved in these types of cases use Law Library resources. A statewide organization of California county law library directors is currently exploring alternative funding, including a share of these filings or a portion of property tax revenue.