The High Price of PACER

The High Price of PACER

In April 2015, LLM, Inc. posted about the crusade to improve public access to the Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, which critics felt had numerous challenges and shortcomings. This year, another call for a change of PACER. Three national nonprofit organizations — the Alliance for Justice, the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the National Consumer Law Center — have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), which runs PACER, alleging that system fees “far exceed the cost of providing the records.”

Despite Congress passing the E-Government Act of 2002, which authorized PACER fees “as a charge for services rendered” but “only to the extent necessary” “to reimburse expenses in providing these services,” PACER fees have increased twice. The AO has been reproached, though with little effect. Instead, according to the suit, the AO has found new ways to spend the additional PACER fees, such as to cover the costs of unrelated projects, such as the expense of audio systems to flat screen TVs for jurors. All of this “at the expense of public access.”

The litigants assert that AO’s noncompliance with the law has “inhibited public understanding of the courts and thwarted equal access to justice.” They also contend that the AO has compounded the “harms” in the following ways:

– discouraging fee waivers, even for pro se litigants, journalists, researchers, and nonprofits
– prohibiting the free transfer of information by those with a fee waiver
– hiring private collection lawyers to sue those who cannot afford to pay the fees

According to the suit, by the end of 2006, the judiciary’s information-technology fund enjoyed a surplus of nearly $150 million, of which $32 million was from PACER fees. And yet, the “AO declined to reduce or eliminate PACER fees,” instead finding news ways to spend the overflow.

Then in 2012, PACER fees rose again, to $0.10 per page. The AO acknowledged that PACER-generated funds paid for the “entire cost of the Judiciary’s public access program, including telecommunications, replication, and archiving expenses,” but that it believed the fees were in compliance because they were only used for public access. In 2014, the judiciary collected more than $145 million in PACER fees, a majority of which was earmarked for courtroom technology, websites and bankruptcy notification systems.

The plaintiffs believe that approximately 2,000,000 can be counted as class-action members, but the defendant’s records will determine the exact number.

What’s your take on PACER fees and how they’re applied? Please sound off below.



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