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March 2009

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


PACER to List "Sealed vs. Sealed" Cases

The Judicial Conference, in its continuing efforts to ensure appropriate public access to court files, has voted to make federal court sealed cases more readily apparent.

The Conference, acting at its March 17 meeting, voted to have Internet lists of civil and criminal cases in district courts include a case number and generic name, such as “Sealed vs. Sealed,” for each sealed case.

Such lists for each of the 94 district courts are generated by the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files system and are accessible through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system.

Currently, PACER lists of sequentially numbered district court cases skip the sealed cases, but a member of the public could query the missing case number directly and would see a message stating that the case “is under seal.”

The Conference in 2007 strongly encouraged district courts to change the message that PACER users receive when querying a sealed case—from “this case does not exist” to “this case is under seal.” The latest Conference action is consistent with and further implements the 2007 Conference policy by providing the public with information to confirm the existence of a sealed case.

The Conference left it up to the individual district courts to determine what additional information about sealed cases, such as the initials of the assigned judge or the date of filing, should be available to the public.