New and improved PACER system unveiled

The electronic PACER federal court records system is sporting a new look and improved functions as part of its first major upgrade in a decade.

The Administrative Office of the US Courts launched a redesigned PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) website Sunday. New features are touted as enabling users to more easily navigate the system, more quickly find what they are seeking, and get better access on their mobile devices. The upgrade also is designed to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

Established more than 30 years ago by the Judicial Conference of the United States, PACER provides access to more than 1 billion documents — nearly all the documents filed by a court or the parties in a case. The upgrade was  in response to user feedback and the judiciary’s ongoing effort to improve public access.

“We are pleased to release this new version of the PACER website that will enable the public to not only access and use it more easily, but also have a better understanding of the electronic public access services that the judiciary offers,” said Jane MacCracken, programs division chief in the Administrative Office’s Court Services Office.

With a homepage that asks, “What can we help you accomplish,” the updated PACER takes advantage of the latest technologies and design best practices to improve usability and accessibility. Modern navigation tools with helpful graphic aids have been added to the website along with more user-friendly directions for locating specific records with systemwide or court-specific searches.

A set of accessibility tools has been included for people with disabilities. They will be able to do such things as adjust text size and contrast elements, or access documents through a screen reader.

In addition, the AO also highlighted the new website includes a feature to help users understand the fee structure with more information about the pricing structure. Directions will also be provided for obtaining the free judicial opinions on govinfo.gov, the website for the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

PACER fees have incited a backlash with critics questioning why the public has to pay to access public documents. Some lawsuits have been filed.

Most recently, Florida attorney Theodore D’Apuzzo lost his case in appellate court against the federal government for charging him PACER fees to access two court orders which he argued were opinions and should have free.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment to the government, finding the documents D’Apuzzo pulled were not labeled as “opinions” and that he could not have “reasonably expected” the contract he signed to establish an account on PACER would “entitle him to any say in what court orders were designated ‘opinions.’”    

In a two-page document labeled “Judgment” and costing 20 cents to access, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The AO is continuing to look for ways to improve PACER. In 2019, the judiciary created the Electronic Public Access Public User Group, which is comprised of volunteer members from the legal profession, media, government and academia, to provide feedback and suggestions for making the online repository of court filing easier to use. The group is scheduled to meet for the second time Monday via teleconference.

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