This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Access to Court Information Ever Expanding
Customers of the federal court’s Public Access to Court Electronic
Records (PACER) system now have access, without charge, to district
court written opinions. Written opinions have been defined by the
Judicial Conference as “any document issued by a judge or judges of the
court sitting in that capacity, that sets forth a reasoned explanation
for a court’s decision.” The authoring judge determines which documents
meet this definition. Only district courts using version 2.4 or higher
of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system will offer this
access, but PACER customers also can access opinions via existing
reports and queries, such as the docket report. Users will not be billed
for accessing the written opinion document itself, but will be billed
for the report or query used to identify the document.
In 2006 alone, over 200 million requests for information
were processed by PACER. Users can retrieve, among other items, a
listing of parties and participants in a case, a compilation of
case-related information, such as cause of action, nature of suit and
dollar demand, judgments or case status, and appellate court opinions.
Many courts also offer imaged copies of documents.
The E-Government Act of 2002 set requirements for providing
public access to government information over the Internet, but even
prior to the Act federal courts were building websites and the federal
Judiciary was implementing the web PACER to provide access to case
information. All federal circuit, district and bankruptcy courts have
websites and the vast majority of those sites satisfy or exceed the
requirements of the E-Government Act with information on court
locations, contact and docket information, local rules, and any document
filed electronically or filed on paper and later converted to
electronic format. The Judiciary remains committed to providing
electronic public access to court information.