The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently announced that it will move to “in-house publishing” of its opinions. According to the press release, “Court staff now manage the process of converting opinions from the original word processing documents into Adobe PDF files, which are then uploaded onto the website, where they can be viewed and/or downloaded by the public.” This task was previously managed by West Publishing, and bringing it in house is expected to save the court $350,000 in the first year.
Hooray? Sort of. I’m glad the Ninth Circuit will be saving itself over a quarter of a million dollars, but that’s basically the only public benefit here. In fact, the headline on the press release is a bit misleading, because the court is not officially publishing their own opinions – West is still doing that. The documents they post are only slip opinions. They are official and can be cited only for a short time before they are published by the official publisher (The Federal Reporter, owned by Thompson West). In order to effect real savings and provide true open access for the public, the Ninth Circuit needs to take this further and actually publish their own opinions.
Right now, when the Ninth Circuit judges issue an opinion and release it on the Web, it is immediately available to read and cite as a slip. After that, however, they send the opinions to Westlaw, who copy-edits each opinion and adds a citation in order to resell it in this final “official” version (in the Federal Reporter). I talked with David Madden in the Public Information Office at the Court, and he confirmed that this process will not change; West’s Federal Reporter will continue to publish the official opinions.