PACER Court Records ‘Can Never Be Free,’ Judge Says (1)

“Making the judiciary’s electronic filings free to the public without an alternative funding source likely would result in steep court fee increases for litigants and hinder access to justice due to cost, a federal judge told a congressional panel Sept. 26.

Judge Audrey Fleissig of the U.S. District court for the Eastern District of Missouri also said in testimony for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the internet that shifting costs away from users without another funding plan would burden courts with new costs.

“Our case management and public access systems can never be free because they require over $100 million per year just to operate,” Fleissig said. “That money must come from somewhere.” …”

Invisible Shackles: The Monopolization of Public Access Legal Research due to Government Failures

“The creation of a system that relies on past decisions, or precedent, such as case law, without providing an opportunity to meaningfully organize such information has circumvented the principle of public access to the law. In fashioning such a flawed scheme, the government has relinquished responsibility and vested in private parties the power to structure significant portions of the legal system on their own. Now, more than two centuries after the inception of the United States legal system, sophisticated corporations have captured the market for legal research and the government has provided no viable alternative that serves the public interest.

This comment argues that the current paradigm for legal research, particularly for free information such as state and federal case opinions and statutes, federal agency regulations, and many law review or journal articles, is one that inhibits rather than promotes public access to the law. The core problem is that properly organized and intelligible legal data is sealed away behind paid, proprietary software while official government sources remain archaic, unintuitive, and disordered….”

The Feds Make a Killing by Overcharging for Electronic Court Records – Reason.com

If you want to find a federal court case—say, to look up the latest juicy filing in the prosecution of one of Donald Trump’s indicted cronies—odds are you’ll hold your nose and log on to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) website, a system run by the federal judiciary.

It’s an old and clunky platform, running on the best interface the mid-1990s had to offer. Which might be excusable if it were free, but it’s not.

PACER charges 10 cents a page for court records and searches. There’s a $3 cap on large documents, and users pay nothing if their bill is under $15 per quarter. This keeps most casual users from needing to pony up—but for news organizations, researchers, and legal professionals, costs can pile up quickly….”

The Federal Courts Are Running An Online Scam – POLITICO Magazine

“Every day, dozens of hungry reporters lurk inside something called PACER, the online records system for America’s federal courts. These days, they’re mostly looking for the latest scraps of intel on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian inference into the 2016 presidential election. And everyone, from lawyers to researchers to activists, uses the system to find similar criminal cases, track the latest arrests of terrorism suspects or argue for sentencing reform.

But I’m here to tell you that PACER—Public Access to Court Electronic Records—is a judicially approved scam. The very name is misleading: Limiting the public’s access by charging hefty fees, it has been a scam since it was launched and, barring significant structural changes, will be a scam forever….

The U.S. federal court system rakes in about $145 million annually to grant access to records that, by all rights, belong to the public….”

Opinion | Public Records Belong to the Public – The New York Times

“There’s no reason for the federal government to profit from access to court documents….

Pacer, a 30-year-old relic that remains unwieldy to use, is a collection of online portals run by the administrative arm of the federal court system. It was designed, at least in principle, to provide online access to the more than one billion court documents that have been docketed in federal courts across the country since the advent of electronic case filing.

But the public can gain access to these public documents online only by paying significant fees. Pacer charges 10 cents per page to view electronic court documents — or up to $3 for documents exceeding 30 pages, which are common. It’s easy to burn up $10 just by looking up rudimentary information about a single case….

The E-Government Act of 2002 says that courts may impose fees “only to the extent necessary” to make public records available. That phrase is now at the center of a class-action lawsuit brought by nonprofit advocacy groups. The groups are challenging the fee structure of the Pacer system, which in 2016 took in $146 million, despite costing only a small fraction of that to operate….

There’s also an admirable bill that was introduced last year in Congress, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, that goes a step further than what is being sought in the class-action suit. It would make all documents filed with the federal courts available free to the public. (In 2017, the Supreme Court, often a late adopter of new technologies, made virtually all of its new court filings freely available online.) The legislation also would mandate needed updates to Pacer, including making documents text-searchable and linkable from external websites….”

Opinion | Public Records Belong to the Public – The New York Times

“There’s no reason for the federal government to profit from access to court documents….

Pacer, a 30-year-old relic that remains unwieldy to use, is a collection of online portals run by the administrative arm of the federal court system. It was designed, at least in principle, to provide online access to the more than one billion court documents that have been docketed in federal courts across the country since the advent of electronic case filing.

But the public can gain access to these public documents online only by paying significant fees. Pacer charges 10 cents per page to view electronic court documents — or up to $3 for documents exceeding 30 pages, which are common. It’s easy to burn up $10 just by looking up rudimentary information about a single case….

The E-Government Act of 2002 says that courts may impose fees “only to the extent necessary” to make public records available. That phrase is now at the center of a class-action lawsuit brought by nonprofit advocacy groups. The groups are challenging the fee structure of the Pacer system, which in 2016 took in $146 million, despite costing only a small fraction of that to operate….

There’s also an admirable bill that was introduced last year in Congress, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, that goes a step further than what is being sought in the class-action suit. It would make all documents filed with the federal courts available free to the public. (In 2017, the Supreme Court, often a late adopter of new technologies, made virtually all of its new court filings freely available online.) The legislation also would mandate needed updates to Pacer, including making documents text-searchable and linkable from external websites….”

The judiciary’s PACER paywall to access public court records makes millions.

“[On this podcast] the hosts will discuss PACER, the federal judiciary’s electronic records system, which has been raking in millions in fees to give people access to public court records. They’ll be joined by Deepak Gupta, an attorney who is leading the class-action lawsuit against PACER that alleges the system grossly overcharges.”

New bill would finally tear down federal judiciary’s ridiculous paywall | Ars Technica

“Judicial records are public documents that are supposed to be freely available to the public. But for two decades, online access has been hobbled by a paywall on the judiciary’s website, called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which charges as much as 10 cents per page. Now Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced legislation that would require that the courts make PACER documents available for download free of charge….”