Reversal of PACER decision restores access

September 23, 2014

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts is showing what technology has taken away, technology can restore.

The federal judiciary is reversing an earlier decision to delete hundreds of thousands of older case files from the federal courts’ electronic system, PACER. In a letter last week to Sen. Patrick Leahy, the office announced the documents would remain available online.

“We regret the disruption in electronic access to this information, but I am happy to inform you that we have developed a solution that will restore full electronic access to all courts of appeals material by the end of October 2014,” Judge John Bates, director of the administrative office, wrote.

Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Bates Sept. 12, reminding the judge that Public Access to Court Electronic Records was created more than 25 years ago to give the public the ability to review court documents in a convenient and inexpensive manner.

“Wholesale removal of thousands of cases from PACER, particularly from four of our federal courts of appeals, will severely limit access to information not only for legal practitioners, but also for legal scholars, historians, journalists, and private litigants for whom PACER has become the go-to source for most court filings,” Leahy wrote.

The administrative office had planned to remove the older files because the electronic platform on which they were stored was incompatible with the next general CM/ECF case management system the federal courts are implementing.

Records from one federal bankruptcy court along with four courts of appeals have become unavailable on PACER. Requests for the documents would have had to be made directly to the court of appeals, and the processing fees were estimated to range between $30 and $60.

The courts and filings removed from PACER are as follows:

•    7th Circuit Court of Appeals (cases filed prior to Jan. 1, 2008)
•    2nd and 11th circuit courts of appeals (cases filed prior to Jan. 1, 2010)
•    Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (cases filed prior to March 1, 2012)
•    U.S. Bankruptcy for the Central District of California (cases filed prior to May 1, 2001)

According to the administrative offices, about 835,000 filings would have been permanently removed from the system.

Access will be restored on a rolling basis for the four courts of appeals, according to Bates. The administrative office is still working on a solution for the bankruptcy court.

While full electronic access is being reinstated, Bates told Leahy that anyone wanting to see the docket sheets can get a copy from the respective appeals court and the bankruptcy court.




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