The federal judiciary's Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) project revolutionized the way in which the federal courts interact with the public and manage their cases and documents. This easy-to-use system allows attorneys to file documents directly with the court over the Internet and allows courts to file, store, and manage their case files in an easy-to-access, transparent way.
The CM/ECF system uses standard computer hardware, an Internet connection and a browser, and accepts documents in Portable Document Format (PDF). (To improve security and archiving capabilities, plans are underway to require that filers use the newer PDF/A format.) The system is easy to use – filers prepare a document using conventional word processing software, then save the document as a PDF file. After logging onto the court's web site with a court-issued password, the filer enters basic information relating to the case and the document being filed, attaches the document, and submits it to the court. There are no added fees for filing documents over the Internet using CM/ECF. A notice verifying court receipt of the filing is generated automatically and e-mailed to the parties in the case.
CM/ECF provides courts the ability to make their documents available to the public over the Internet. Electronic access to court data is available through the judiciary's Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service. Litigants receive one free copy of documents filed electronically in their cases, which they can save or print for their files. Additional copies are available to attorneys and the general public for viewing or downloading at ten cents per page, with a maximum cost per document of $3.00. Neither the free copy nor the maximum cost per document applies to transcripts filed with the court or docket sheets. As directed by Congress, the judiciary's electronic public access program is funded entirely through user fees set by the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Copies of court opinions, as designated by the authoring judge, are available at no charge. Free opinions are available through PACER and at the Government Printing Office, Federal Digital System (FDsys) website which provides free access to publications from all three branches of the federal government via the Internet. Access to judicial opinions through FDsys allows the Judiciary to make its work more easily available to the public. Collections are divided into appellate, district, or bankruptcy court opinions and are text-searchable across opinions and across courts. FDsys also permits embedded animation and audio. During the pilot phase of this project, more than 600,000 opinions dating back to 2004 were made available. The judicial opinions collection is one of the most heavily used collections in FDsys, with millions of retrievals each month.
Amendments to the Federal Appellate, Bankruptcy, Civil, and Criminal Rules of Procedure address issues relating to privacy and public access to electronic case files. The Rules require that filers redact certain "personal identifier" information, such as Social Security or taxpayer-identification numbers, dates of birth, names of minor children, financial account numbers, and in criminal cases, home addresses, from their filings. Fed. R. App. P. 25(a)(5); Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2; Fed. R. Crim. P. 49.1; Fed. R. Bankr. P. 9037. At login to CM/ECF, a message reminds attorneys of their responsibility to redact this private information from the documents they file and requires them to acknowledge that they have read the notice and complied with the redaction rules. Filers cannot complete the login process without checking this acknowledgement.
The transition to a Next Generation of CM/ECF is well underway. The requirements gathering phase of the project concluded in March 2012, as groups of judges, chambers staff, clerks, and court staff identified and prioritized hundreds of requirements. The project also received input from the bar, academia, government agencies, and others through interviews, focus groups, and surveys of approximately 10,000 judiciary stakeholders. The project is in the design and development phase. The initial schedule calls for the first Next Generation release to be available to pilot courts in 2014, followed by full transition over several years. The first release includes new sign-on functionality, which will give users both PACER and electronic filing access from a single account. Timing of the availability of electronic filing access from the single account will be on a court-by-court basis as courts move to the Next Generation system.
For more information, please contact: Jennie Allen, Judicial Services Office (202) 502-1800. More information about the new sign-on functionality is available at www.pacer.gov.