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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Schultze argues that PACER Should Be Free in new paper. FGI concurs!

Our friend Stephen Schultze, a 3rd year Georgetown University law student (formerly associate director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University), argues in a new paper that the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system should be free. We concur!

Schultze, Stephen, The Price of Ignorance: The Constitutional Cost of Fees for Access to Electronic Public Court Records (December 4, 2017). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 4, 2018. Available at SSRN.

This paper argues that the federal judiciary has erected a fee structure that makes public records practically inaccessible for many members of the public and for essential democratic purposes. The per-page fee model inhibits constitutionally protected activities without promoting equally transcendent ends. Through this fee system, the judiciary collects fees at ever-increasing rates and uses much of the revenue for entirely other purposes — in an era in which the actual cost of storing and transmitting digital records asymptotically approaches zero. PACER should be free.

via The Price of Ignorance: The Constitutional Cost of Fees for Access to Electronic Public Court Records by Stephen Schultze :: SSRN.

US Supreme Court *finally* moving to adopt electronic filing AND free access

This is welcome news re the US Supreme Court. Fulfilling a promise outlined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in his 2014 year-end report on the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court is adopting electronic filing for all of its cases. The new electronic filing system will begin operation on November 13, 2017. Full and free Supreme Court dockets will be a boon to lawyers, researchers, students, and the public. Is this the beginning of the end for the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system (he says hopefully!)?

After lagging behind other courts for years, the Supreme Court is finally catching up on a key technological feature that will be a boon to researchers, lawyers and analysts of all kinds. It’s moving to adopt electronic filing.

The change will allow the public to access legal filings for all future cases — free of charge. Beginning Nov. 13, the court will require “parties who are represented by counsel” to upload digital copies of their paper submissions. Parties representing themselves will have their filings uploaded by the court’s staff.

All those submissions will then be entered into an online docket for each case, and they will be accessible from the court’s homepage.

via The Supreme Court is about to become more transparent, thanks to technology – The Washington Post.

PACER’s bad math overcharges users. US Courts Administrative Office sued

The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) document system of the US Courts provides online access to US Appellate, District and Bankruptcy court records. But this access is not free; PACER charges users $.10/page to access and download court documents. For years, many have pointed out both the technical and philosophical problems with the the PACER system; In fact, the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University and the Free Law Project got together to create a firefox/chrome extension called RECAP, which allows users to automatically search for free copies during a search in the fee-based online US legal database PACER, and to help build up a free alternative database at the Internet Archive.

So it should come as no surprise that the US Courts Administrative Office is getting sued because, the plaintiffs say that PACER is using bad math to overcharge users. Below is the crux of the tech dirt article.

Bryndon Fisher says PACERs math is screwy. He dug into PACERs page calculations and, according to his class action lawsuit, it almost always adds its bytes up incorrectly. (via Courthouse News and Venkat Balasubramani):

Based on an extensive investigation into PACER’s billing practices, PACER exhibits a systemic error that overcharges users for accessing docket reports in violation of its stated policies and procedures.

The basic problem is simple. PACER claims to charge users $0.10 for each page in a docket report, up to a maximum charge of $3.00 per transaction. Since by default, these docket reports are displayed in HTML format, PACER uses a formula based on the number of bytes in a docket to determine the number of billable pages. One billable pages equals 4,320 extracted bytes.

In reality, however, the PACER billing system contains an error. PACER artificially inflates the number of bytes in each extracted page, counting some of those bytes five times instead of just once. As a result, users are systematically overcharged for certain docket reports.

Fisher says this error is resulting in overcharges for everyone using PACER. He tallied up his costs and found PACERs bad math caused a significant cost increase.

During the past two years, Fisher accessed 184 court docket reports using PACER and was charged and paid a total of $109.40 to the AO for this access. These charges do not include access to the individual PDF documents, only access to the docket reports.

Over this two-year period, based on the formula contained in the PACER User Manual, Fisher should have been charged $72.40, representing an overcharge of $37.00 or approximately 51%.

9th Circuit Court cares about citation rot!

I learned something new and pretty cool today. Librarians at the 9th Circuit Court have been archiving citations in Court opinions since 2008 — and the Internet Archive has been archiving the archived citations in the wayback machine! However, I’m not sure if the change in their process is a good thing or a bad thing. Will those archived documents now only be available through the court’s filing system and PACER? Any law librarians out there who can clarify?

Since 2008, court librarians in the Ninth Circuit have been tracking citations to online resources and preserving original documents and/or web pages as Adobe PDF files. Although stored on the court website, http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/library/webcites/, the availability of these files is not readily apparent to legal researchers.

The process will change January 4, 2016, when PDF files of online resources cited in opinions are automatically added to the official case docket. The files will be immediately available to anyone accessing the docket through the court’s case management/electronic case filing system, or CM/ECF, and the federal judiciary’s PACER system.

Since January 2008, circuit librarians have identified 643 Ninth Circuit opinions having citations to online resources. The yearly totals range from a high of 102 opinions in 2011 to 69 opinions in 2014 with an average of 80 opinions per year. The number of web links cited in an opinion ranges from one to as many as 30.

via Online Citation Sources Added to Docket.

64 Federal Courts Now Publish Opinions on FDsys

Great news from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:

A project providing free online access to federal court opinions has expanded to include 64 courts. The federal Judiciary and the Government Printing Office partner through the GPO’s Federal Digital System, FDsys, to provide public access to more than 750,000 opinions, many dating back to 2004.

The Judicial Conference approved national implementation of the project in September 2012, expanding participation from the original 29 courts. FDsys currently contains opinions from 8 appellate courts, 20 district courts, and 35 bankruptcy courts.

Federal court opinions are one of the most heavily used collections on FDsys, with millions of retrievals each month. Opinions are pulled nightly from the courts’ Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) systems and sent to the GPO, where they are posted on the FDsys website. Collections on FDsys are divided into appellate, district or bankruptcy court opinions and are text-searchable across courts. FDsys also allows embedded animation and audio – an innovation previously only available with opinions posted on a court’s own website or on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).

While the public already can view federal court opinions for free on PACER [users do need to register for a PACER account and there are limits on how much is available for free], the FDSys project presents just another way to make court-related information more accessible to the public. The FDSys project presents another way to make court-related information more accessible to the public.

[HT Gary Price at InfoDocket!]

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