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November 2010

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


More Federal Courts Move to Offer Digital Audio Recordings Online

In the months following the Judicial Conference’s endorsement last March of making digital audio recordings of court proceedings available online, 30 federal courts have moved to provide such public access.

To date, two district courts and six bankruptcy courts have “gone live” in offering digital audio files via PACER, the Judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records service. (More than one million subscribers have used PACER to access written docket and case information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts.)

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Another 22 courts—one district and 21 bankruptcy—either have begun implementation or are planning to offer access through PACER to digital audio files.

The Judicial Conference set a fee of $2.40 to download any digital audio file, matching the existing maximum fee for accessing any written document through PACER. In courts with digital audio recording, computer disks of courtroom proceedings have been available for a $26 fee.

Digital audio recording has been an authorized method of making an official record of court proceedings since its approval by the Judicial Conference in 1999. Digital audio recording is used in most bankruptcy and district courts (where magistrate judges account for most of the usage).

The Conference action in March 2010 followed a two-year pilot project that indicated significant public interest in accessing the audio files. In those courts that offer the audio files online, each presiding judge has case-to-case discretion to decide which proceedings will be included.

Judge Julie Robinson (D. Kan.), chair of the Conference’s Court Administration and Case Management Committee, said the committee, which had oversight responsibilities for the digital audio pilot, “was impressed by the demonstrated degree of public interest in obtaining recordings of court proceedings through PACER.”

“Providing recordings in this user-friendly format serves as an important tool in improving both public access and understanding of the federal courts,” she said.

The eight courts already allowing online access are the trial courts in the District of Nebraska and Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the bankruptcy courts in the Northern District of Alabama, Maine, Eastern District of North Carolina, Rhode Island, Middle District of Florida, and Eastern District of Washington.

Implementation has begun in one district court, the Southern District of Alabama, and in nine bankruptcy courts: the Middle District of North Carolina, Middle District of Tennessee, Eastern District of Wisconsin, New Mexico, Alaska, Eastern District of Michigan, New Jersey, Montana, and Vermont.

In addition, 12 bankruptcy courts will be included in the next wave of implementation. They are in the Southern District of Indiana, South Dakota, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Michigan, Hawaii, Nevada, Western District of Louisiana, District of Columbia, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of California, and Eastern District of Missouri.