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Coming Soon to a Computer Near You: More Free PACER Documents

Top o' the mornin' LBW readers. I thought it appropriate to start off St. Paddy's Day (no, it's not "St. Patty's Day") by bringing you all some news that might make you want to raise a glass. Or a coffee mug, whatever.

Tony Mauro reports in The National Law Journal that the U.S. Judicial Conference voted yesterday to increase fourfold the number of free documents that members of the public will be able to retrieve from the federal courts' PACER system. Rather than a $10 per year limit on freebies (at $.08 per page), users will now be allowed to retrieve $10 worth of documents per quarter.

While that change might not matter to many attorneys who are on PACER as often as a tween girl is on Facebook, the Conference estimates that 75 percent of users will now pay nothing for their yearly use. Sweet.

The conference also voted to reduce the cost of digital recordings of proceedings, which are currently provided by certain district and bankruptcy courts under a pilot program, and to encourage additional courts to participate.

While increasing free access is certainly a step in the right direction, Professor Mitchell H. Rubinstein of St. John's Law thinks we shouldn't settle for anything less than 100 percent free access to all court documents. The U.S. Courts press release states that the federal judiciary is in the midst of a "comprehensive study" of ways to beef up its services, and the results of the study should be available by July.

The idea that all "public" documents should be freely available to the public is not new, and advocates like Carl Malamud have been banging that drum for quite some time. Rubinstein makes clear that, in light of the fact that PACER documents are more often than not uploaded by attorneys, rather than the courts themselves, any issue of recouping costs to avoid assessing them to the taxpayers is dubious.

Posted by Eric Lipman on March 17, 2010 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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