PACER Offers Terrible Explanation Why They Are Removing A Decade of Court Information

August 26th, 2014

Following up from my post this morning, where we learned unceremoniously that PACER would be dumping a decade of information off of PACER, the WSJ has obtained a statement explaining this idiotic move.

On August 11, a change was made to the PACER architecture in preparation for the implementation of the Next Generation of the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files System. NextGen replaces the older CM/ECF system and provides improvements for users, including a single sign-on for PACER and NextGen.

As a result of these architectural changes, the locally developed legacy case management systems in four courts of appeals and one bankruptcy court are now incompatible with PACER, and therefore the judiciary is no longer able to provide electronic access to the closed cases on those systems. The dockets and documents in these cases can be obtained directly from the relevant court. All open cases, as well as any new filings, will continue to be available on PACER.

Seriously? Obtained directly, by going to the court in person? What kind of horrible rationale is that.

And, since these documents can no longer be purchased why wouldn’t they offer these documents to be archived? My friend Mike Carver is trying to obtain the archived documents.

But that means it is much harder for the public to access historical records — and the lack of forewarning left some legal and technical experts reeling. Brian Carver, an assistant professor at University of California at Berkeley School of Information, says he was frustrated and disappointed by the change. Carver is a co-founder of nonprofit group Free Law Project, which recently partnered with Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy to maintain the RECAP platform — a crowd-sourced project which hosts free archives of documents others have obtained through the paid PACER system.Using a browser extension, RECAP users can see when documents are already available for free in their archive which currently stands at roughly 3 million court documents — and automatically upload documents that they pay for to that public archive.

Carver says their group would be happy to host the files publicly, and are reaching out the courts to see if that is possible. But he was still shocked by the lack of advance warning. “If we had known about it in advance maybe we could have done something to target these documents and archive them publicly,” he says. “It was really an announcement of an accomplished feat — we weren’t told until after this deed was already done.”

 I hope PACER doesn’t let this data go down the memory hole.

Update:  Todd Ruger writes at Legal Times that you can obtain the records by emailing the court! For the low cost of $30 per case!

Want to access a case filed in the Second Circuit before Jan. 1, 2010? You now must send an email or written request to the court clerks office to obtain the records. The cost: $30 for the entire file, which will be sent by email. (PACER costs are 10 cents per page. Opinions, however, are free.)