PACER turns 25

December 10, 2013
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PACER is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The service, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, was approved in September 1988 by the Judicial Conference of the United States. Goodbye paper, hello computer.

PACER, coupled with the Case Management/Electronic Case Files management system that started in the 1990s, has made life easier for attorneys, judges and clerks. Lawyers now could file a document after the courthouse closed and still make the deadline. Paper was no longer king in clerk’s offices, thanks to the online access and case management.

Reporters also appreciate the ability to access court records and activity at all hours of the day.

“PACER was one of the most significant progressive steps in the implementation of technologies in the courts,” said Michael Kunz, clerk of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a release from the United States Courts. “It brought information from the clerk’s office to desktop computers located in law offices, government agencies, business entities and the news media. Stakeholders in the justice system overwhelmingly endorsed it as an efficient system.”

Kuntz’s court became one of the first sites for PACER.

He also said if it weren’t for PACER and the Case Management/Electronic Case Files management system that started in the 1990s, court staff would have been quickly overwhelmed by the caseloads of the last 25 years.

Back in the day, users had to use dial-in telephone modems to receive docket information and see thumbnail case summaries on their computer screens. Case documents were still only available at the courthouse. How times have changed. Now attorneys can pull up this information on smartphones and tablets from anywhere with an Internet connection. In the beginning, only a handful of courts used these services. Now, every federal court does.

Administrators are working on modernizing the CM/ECF system and PACER service to make it more user-friendly as well as preserving electronic dockets and opinions for posterity.


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