I’m a little bit behind on complaining about it, so here’s the executive summary to catch everyone up: One month after they celebrated 25 years of PACER, the whole thing went down, twice in one week.
In case you missed it, the Administrative Office of Courts issued a statement in December celebrating the twenty five year anniversary of PACER. The electronic filing service was started in 1988. It ushered in the era of electronic filing for federal court documents. To me, the irony of this “celebration” is that PACER, and the local CM/ECF systems, have barely changed since then.
As usual, the Third Branch PR team leads with how PACER has made access “universal.”
“Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of cases were practically obscure. Today, every Third Branch court is using CM/ECF and PACER,” said Michel Ishakian, chief of staff for the AO’s Department of Program Services, who oversaw PACER from 2008 to 2013. “That means that all dockets, opinions, and case file documents can be accessed world-wide in real time, unless they are sealed or otherwise restricted for legal purposes. This level of transparency and access to a legal system is unprecedented and unparalleled.”
This is technically correct – but Mr. Ishakian neglects two caveats to this statement:
1. Users have to pay to access these documents. You pay to search for them, and you pay to download them.
2. The “opinions” available on PACER are slip opinions, not officially published case law. That means they can’t be cited in court.