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 information, doug collins, fees, pacer, public documents, us court system

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  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Sep 2018 @ 6:09pm


    While I don't disagree with your premise that certain professions keep their methods difficult for the average person to comprehend in the interest of differentiating their 'expertise' (and charging a premium), there is nothing about this law that won't benefit lawyers. Whether they apply the savings to their clients bills is another thing.

    That pro se respondents will also have an easier time won't reduce the need for lawyers as there is still this thing called interpretation and another thing called rules. Knowledge and applicability of those interpretations and knowing when to act (according to the rules) can make all the difference in some cases. Ever hear an Appellate Court say they should have brought that up at the original trial (as an example)?

    The whole concept of law, the whole concept of accounting (and there are others) are based upon the necessity of expertise. While I might have some disdain for how they go about valuing their expertise, I do not deny that there are times when their expertise is of value. They have expertise in their fields, and I have expertise in mine.

    Often when they have gotten involved in my field (I am unaware of any that didn't) they have needed to call on me or someone like me because they are expert in their fields, and not mine. I need both hands, both feet and a few more people's hand and feet to relate the number of times my expertise was needed to help lawyers and accountants (and some others) when they invested out of their fields. They have all been satisfied customers. I don't feel the need to document them as I have the satisfaction of having served them well to sustain me, and don't need your approval.

    Now your field, which is unknown to us, you claim expertise. You claim writing books that explain your expertise. You claim that your expertise in your written form is in demand, so much so that that "millions of copies" have been downloaded, and one assumes valued. Or was it laughed at?

    Just what is your expertise? Mine is known, so your comeback needs to be about you, not me or us.

    You don't you?

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