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More Courts Offer Online Digital Audio Recordings

April 15, 2009

Project Expanded: More Courts Offering Digital Audio Recordings Online

A pilot project to make digital audio recordings of courtroom proceedings publicly available online has been expanded, from five federal courts to nine, through the end of 2009.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims and three bankruptcy courts — in the Middle District of Florida, Eastern District of New York, and Rhode Island — are being added to the project. Rhode Island already is offering the recordings online, and the other three courts are moving toward implementation.

They join the five original pilot courts — U.S. District Courts in Nebraska and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in the Eastern District of North Carolina, Northern District of Alabama, and Maine.

The audio files are accessible through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. More than 950.000 subscribers use PACER to access docket and case information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts.

Digital audio recording has been an authorized method of making an official record of court proceedings since 1999, when it was approved by the policy-making Judicial Conference of the United States. Digital audio recording is used in most bankruptcy and district courts (where magistrate judges account for most of the usage).

In courts with digital audio recording, computer disks of hearings have been available for the authorized fee of $26, but prospective purchasers have had to make the trip to the clerk of court’s office. During the pilot project, Internet access to the same content at the nine pilot courts will cost a minimum of 16 cents — eight cents for accessing the docket sheet and another eight cents for selecting the audio file on PACER.

The Judicial Conference’s Executive Committee approved the digital audio recording pilot’s expansion in January 2009.

The Public Access and Records Management Division of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts will determine what the appropriate fee should be if such access becomes permanent. The impact on band-width, costs of the required technology, and other factors will be part of that determination.