Suggested changes to the Open Courts Act

“We write on behalf of a group that has extensive experience building large public sites on the Internet. The purpose of this letter is to advance action on improving public access to federal court records, which are presently offered by the government through an outdated PACER system. We have extensive experience putting large government databases on the Internet and then working with public officials to help government do this work better. Our experience includes making available federal databases such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark database, the Securities and Exchange EDGAR database, the IRS Form 990 database, 14,000 hours of Congressional video from hearings posted at the request of the Speaker of the House, and over 6,000 government videos from the U.S. National Archives posted in cooperation with the Archivist of the United States. We have extensive experience working with legal information, and operate some of the largest sites for access to federal court filings, as well as the U.S. Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the regulations of all 50 states, and much more….”

Suggested changes to the Open Courts Act

“We write on behalf of a group that has extensive experience building large public sites on the Internet. The purpose of this letter is to advance action on improving public access to federal court records, which are presently offered by the government through an outdated PACER system. We have extensive experience putting large government databases on the Internet and then working with public officials to help government do this work better. Our experience includes making available federal databases such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark database, the Securities and Exchange EDGAR database, the IRS Form 990 database, 14,000 hours of Congressional video from hearings posted at the request of the Speaker of the House, and over 6,000 government videos from the U.S. National Archives posted in cooperation with the Archivist of the United States. We have extensive experience working with legal information, and operate some of the largest sites for access to federal court filings, as well as the U.S. Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the regulations of all 50 states, and much more….”

House Passes Bill To Make Federal Court Records Free to the Public – Reason.com

“The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday, over the objections of the federal judiciary, to make access to federal court records free to the public. 

By a voice vote, the House passed H.R. 8235, the Open Courts Act of 2020, which aims to modernize PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records)—a clunky and frustrating database of federal court filings maintained by the Administrative Office of the United States Court—and eliminate its paywall.

The database has long been the bane of lawyers, reporters, researchers, and citizen sleuths. PACER charges 10 cents a page for searches, court dockets, and documents, capped at $3.00 per document. Users who accrue less than $30 in fees every three months do not have to pay anything, which keeps casual users from being charged. But for others, costs can quickly pile up and there’s no alternative. Reason uses PACER on a daily basis to monitor civil rights lawsuits and report on the criminal justice system. As Seamus Hughes, a terrorism researcher who scours PACER for new prosecutions, lamented in Politico Magazine last year, “My work at The George Washington University’s Program on Extremism generates a quarterly PACER bill that could fund a coup in a small country.”

 

Even the Justice Department has to pay to use PACER. Between 2010 and 2017, the DOJ spent $124 million on federal court records….”

The federal judiciary should allow free access to public court records | R Street

“In September, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Open Courts Act of 2020 (H.R. 8235) by voice vote. The bipartisan bill—co-sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.)—seeks to knock down the current paywall around public federal court filings.

Today, the federal judiciary maintains online public court records, called the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (PACER, for short). But, to view these records, PACER forces users to register for an account, provide credit card information, and then charges users 10 cents a page to download and view most public filings….”

Judges oppose new online database with free access to court records – The Washington Post

“Leaders of the federal judiciary are working to block bipartisan legislation designed to create a national database of court records that would provide free access to case documents.

Backers of the bill, who are pressing for a House vote in the coming days, envision a streamlined, user-friendly system that would allow citizens to search for court documents and dockets without having to pay. Under the current system, users pay 10 cents per page to view the public records through the service known as PACER, an acronym for Public Access to Court Electronic Records….”

 

New Bill Calls For An End To PACER Fees, Complete Overhaul Of The Outdated System | Techdirt

“The perennial make-PACER-free legislation has arrived. If you’re not familiar with PACER, count yourself among the lucky ones. PACER performs an essential task: it provides electronic access to federal court dockets and documents. That’s all it does and it barely does it.

PACER charges taxpayers (who’ve already paid taxes to fund the federal court system) $0.10/page for EVERYTHING. Dockets? $0.10/page. (And that “page” is very loosely defined.) Every document is $0.10/page, as though the court system was running a copier and chewing up expensive toner. So is every search result page, even those that fail to find any responsive results. The user interface would barely have been considered “friendly” 30 years ago, never mind in the year of our lord two thousand twenty. Paying $0.10/page for everything while attempting to navigate an counterintuitive interface draped over something that looks like it’s being hosted by Angelfire is no one’s idea of a nostalgic good time.

Legislation attempting to make PACER access free was initiated in 2018. And again in 2019. We’re still paying for access, thanks to the inability of legislators to get these passed. Maybe this is the year it happens, what with a bunch of courtroom precedent being built up suggesting some illegal use of PACER fees by the US Courts system. We’ll see. Here’s what’s on tap for this year’s legislative session: …”

Enabling complete PACER RSS feeds in the Eastern District of California

“We are writing to urge the District Court for the Eastern District of California to fully enable an existing feature of the PACER system: RSS feeds of all recent cases and filings in your jurisdiction. I am the executive director of Free Law Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Oakland, California that works to make the U.S. legal system more fair and efficient. I am writing on behalf of a broad coalition of individuals and organizations that believe enabling this simple feature is important to transparency and public understanding of court activity….” 

Circuit Panel Rebuffs Judiciary on Excessive PACER Fees

“The federal judiciary cannot fund its pick of courtroom technologies with the fees drawn in by a system that makes court records publicly available, an appellate panel ruled Thursday. 

PACER, short for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, was created over 30 years ago to just what its name suggests, charging 10 cents per page, or $3 per item, since its last fee hike in 2012….”

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….”