PACER update

Reposted from the AALL Advocacy listserv:

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) is making progress on updates to PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), and the conversion to the Next Generation Case Management/Electronic Case File (CM/ECF).  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is moving to the new system on Monday, October 20, 2014 (http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/).  Information on the upgrades is available at https://www.pacer.gov/announcements/quarterly/qa201410.pdf.  The conversion has included some frustration over the lack of transparency and input over the process.

On August 10, 2014, the AO released a brief announcement stating that cases from five courts would be removed from the PACER website:

  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit (prior to January 1, 2010)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit (prior to CM/ECF conversion)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (prior to January 1, 2010)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District (prior to March 1, 2012)
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central Division of California (prior to May 1, 2001)

The day after the announcement, the documents indicated were removed.  The changes to PACER were made in anticipation of revamping the computer system.  At the time, reassurances were made that the documents no longer available as of August 11th would still be accessible from the relevant courts.  Ultimately the document take-down was a technology compatibility problem, but it led to an uproar over access.  The suddenness of the removal and lack of notice to users caused the consternation.  This has been an ongoing theme: that PACER is not as open and available as it should be.

In mid-September, AO announced its plan to restore the documents that had been removed by converting them to PDF format.  The four appellate courts’ information will be restored by the end of October 2014.  A solution is still being sought for the California Bankruptcy Court.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy wrote a letter (found at https://law.resource.org/pacer/senate.gov.20140912.pdf) that was instrumental in having the documents restored to the website.

The series of events involving PACER and the interruption in access bolsters the argument and ongoing push for an open-access platform for these federal case documents.  Supporters argue that access to court records should be freely available and hope that they will influence AO to provide open access in the near future.

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