From FB: Pacer.gov to be free under bill sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180911/17314640621/surprise-bill-introduced-to-finally-make-pacer-free-to-all.shtml

This is a bill we all need to get behind. And if Pacer’s going to be free then Cook County should switch to Pacer!  Right now our system is a disaster, I have complaints of litigants standing in line for up to an hour to get court file document prints, or no prints at all.  Clerk’s response?  Oh, people rarely print documents.  But maybe the reason people rarely print documents is because the system is so onerous. You have to stand at a terminal, you have to click on the document, you have to click on print, you have to keep track of the case number and number of pages. Cases which are unsealed do not appear online and aren’t printable. The clerk’s office blames the judges’ clerks and the judge’s clerks claim they unsealed the case, but “it’s not working right for some reason.”  Lot of complaints.

The print system at the Daley center is a nightmare and has to end.

So let’s get behind this bill and expand it to all state court systems.  Court documents should be free.  Cases should not be held ransom.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180911/17314640621/surprise-bill-introduced-to-finally-make-pacer-free-to-all.shtml

Surprise: Bill Introduced To Finally Make PACER Free To All

from the nice! dept

So this is somewhat unexpected, but Rep. Doug Collins has introduced HR 6714, a bill to make federal court records free to the public.

H.R. 6714, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, would guarantee free public access to federal court records through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which currently charges the public a fee to access documents. The bill would also require updates to the PACER system, including adding a function to enable all users to search its catalog of court documents easily. Currently, litigants are handicapped because they cannot conduct research through the system.

The bill would further support legal professionals and the general public by consolidating the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. The CM/ECF system was designed to increase efficiency for all stakeholders within the judicial system, but it is compartmentalized among different courts. This makes locating records and filing documents difficult and inefficient. The Electronic Court Records Reform Act would unify these disconnected systems under the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in order to ensure uniform access to all federal litigants.

This would be… amazing. We’ve spent years highlighting the massive problems with PACER, the federal court system that charges insane amounts for basically everything you do, just to access public records, and which functions very much like it was designed around 1995. There are a few court cases arguing that PACER fees are illegal and a recent ruling in one of those cases agreed. As we noted at the time, that was hardly the final word on the matter. A bill like the ones Collins introduced would be an amazing leap forward in giving public access to court documents.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear if the bill has any support beyond Collins, but this is the kind of thing you would hope that Congress could get behind.

Filed Under: access to informationdoug collinsfeespacerpublic documentsus court system

Surprise: Bill Introduced To Finally Make PACER Free To All

from the nice! dept

So this is somewhat unexpected, but Rep. Doug Collins has introduced HR 6714, a bill to make federal court records free to the public.

H.R. 6714, the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, would guarantee free public access to federal court records through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which currently charges the public a fee to access documents. The bill would also require updates to the PACER system, including adding a function to enable all users to search its catalog of court documents easily. Currently, litigants are handicapped because they cannot conduct research through the system.

The bill would further support legal professionals and the general public by consolidating the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system. The CM/ECF system was designed to increase efficiency for all stakeholders within the judicial system, but it is compartmentalized among different courts. This makes locating records and filing documents difficult and inefficient. The Electronic Court Records Reform Act would unify these disconnected systems under the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in order to ensure uniform access to all federal litigants.

This would be… amazing. We’ve spent years highlighting the massive problems with PACER, the federal court system that charges insane amounts for basically everything you do, just to access public records, and which functions very much like it was designed around 1995. There are a few court cases arguing that PACER fees are illegal and a recent ruling in one of those cases agreed. As we noted at the time, that was hardly the final word on the matter. A bill like the ones Collins introduced would be an amazing leap forward in giving public access to court documents.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear if the bill has any support beyond Collins, but this is the kind of thing you would hope that Congress could get behind.

Filed Under: access to informationdoug collinsfeespacerpublic documentsus court system

 

and more earlier posts on the subject yield:

Legislators Take Another Stab At Eliminating Fees For PACER Access

from the aligning-the-price-tag-with-the-value-of-PACER’s-UI dept

An new annual tradition in the halls of Congress is being celebrated with the introduction of legislation targeting PACER fees.

Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) reintroduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act as HR 1164 Wednesday with cosponsors Mike Quigley (D-IL), David Roe (R-TN), and Henry “Hank” C. Johnson, Jr. (D-GA).

The full title of the bill is “To direct the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to consolidate the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system, and for other purposes.” The full text of the bill is not currently available, but it is expected to be substantially similar to HR 6714 from the second session of the 115th Congress last year.

Last year’s bill died after being referred to the House Judiciary Committee, most likely trampled underfoot by Congressional hearings and wall-related legislation. Either that or it’s tough to get Congress members excited about eliminating fees they already don’t have to pay.

There have been no successful attempts to curb PACER fees, much less turn it into a free service. We know this because PACER still charges $0.10/page for documents and dockets as if it were an aged librarian keeping close tabs on the Xerox machine.

It has been nearly 20 years since PACER opened its doors to the public. Since its inception, prices have increased, fee collections have steadily ticked upward, and almost none of that money is being spent trying to lower access costs or update the archaic system that punishes the public for expressing an interest in court proceedings.

The only thing PACER has really done over the last twenty years is attract legislation and lawsuits. While it did create an online portal for court documents that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, that’s about all it’s done with the time and money the US court system has had at its disposal. It’s not that this step wasn’t important. It was a huge step forward. Since then, the PACER system has been characterized by its inertia.

Maybe this will be the year Congress finally decides to take this issue seriously. At least one federal court has suggested PACER is misusing fees. Another judge has decided to allow a class action suit against the US Courts system to proceed, stating that these litigants suffer directly from the costs imposed by the government’s walled garden.

At the heart of all this is the First Amendment and the presumption of openness the US court system is supposed to adhere to. Instituting a paywall allows only some people to exercise their right to access public court documents. Whatever arguments might be made about having to offset the (very minimal) costs of maintaining this portal ignore the obvious side effects of limiting access only to those who can afford it.

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