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Pilot Project Will Post Digital Audio Recordings Online
Continuing its efforts to enhance the transparency of
courtroom proceedings, the federal Judiciary is about to launch a pilot
project to make digital audio recordings publicly available online.
Five pilot project participants—three bankruptcy courts
and two district courts—will integrate their recording and Case
Management/ Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) systems to make audio files
available later this summer on the Internet, the same way written files
have long been available.
Pilot Project Courts
U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maine
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina
“We’re just treating the audio file as we would a written
file,” said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge J. Rich Leonard in the Eastern
District of North Carolina. “We think providing access to an audio file
will prove to be enormously helpful.”
His court and a CM/ECF team within the Administrative
Office (AO) are developing the necessary software, and will share it
with the bankruptcy courts in the Northern District of Alabama and the
District of Maine, and with the district courts for the District of
Nebraska and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The lead programming work was done by Leonard’s court for
the audio system, VoiceIQ, being used in three of the five pilot
courts. The other audio system being used is FTR-Gold. The interface
software for it will be developed by both court and AO staff, with AO
staff taking the lead for district court development and Leonard’s court
taking the lead for bankruptcy court development.
“We’ve been in touch with the four other courts, and will
continue with e-mail exchanges and face-to-face meetings in the coming
weeks,” Leonard said.
The five courts will make audio file access available
through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system.
More than 600,000 subscribers already use PACER to access docket and
case information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy
courts. (Learn more about PACER at www.pacer.uscourts.gov.)
Digital audio recording has been one of three authorized
methods of making an official record of court proceedings since 1999,
when the Judicial Conference voted to make it an alternative to court
reporters and analog recording.
But the Conference’s action initially carried the
condition that no additional funds over the cost of a court’s analog
system be spent for digital audio systems. That limitation was lifted in
2005, and the pilot project won Conference approval last March.
Today, digital audio recording is used in most bankruptcy
courts and at least one third of the 94 district courts (where
magistrate judges account for most of the usage). In those courts,
computer disks of hearings have been available for the authorized fee of
$26 but prospective purchasers have had to make a trip to the clerk of
During the six-to-12-month pilot project, Internet access
to the same content will cost 16 cents—eight cents for accessing the
docket sheet and another eight cents for selecting the audio file.
“It’s going to be a PDF document that’s considered a
single page,” Leonard explained. “The Administrative Office’s Electronic
Public Access Program Office will determine during the pilot project
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.”
The EPA program’s mission is to facilitate and improve
electronic public access to court information at a reasonable cost, in
accordance with congressional and judicial policies, security
requirements and user demands. “This pilot project is a logical step,”
said Mary Stickney, the EPA Program Office chief.
It was Leonard, previously a district court clerk and a
magistrate judge, who first proposed the pilot project. “He has a keen
interest in all aspects of the EPA Program, and his knowledge of
history, technology, and policy is unsurpassed in the Judiciary,”
Stickney said. “His leadership has been instrumental in shaping the
discussion and resulting policy on electronic public access and privacy
Judges in the five pilot courts will determine which of
the hearings they preside over should have a recording posted on PACER
for possible downloading. Those seeking to access audio files will find a
specially designed icon—an audio speaker—to designate the digital audio
“We anticipate that these files will be popular, particularly with members of the news media,” Stickney said.