The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts recently announced
that customers of the federal court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records
(PACER) system will now have access to district court written opinions free of
charge. The office’s Judicial Conference defines a written opinion as “any
document issued by a judge or judges of the court sitting in that capacity that
sets forth a reasoned explanation for a court’s decision.” Still, the authoring
judge determines which documents fall into this category.
Additionally, district courts that have not updated to version 2.4
or higher of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system will not offer
this access. The office said, however, “PACER customers also can access opinions
via existing reports and queries, such as the docket report.” Users are not
billed for accessing the written document itself, but billed for the report or
query used to identify the document.
Normal fees to access court documents on PACER are $.08 per page,
which is applied to the number of pages found in a search, regardless of whether
or not the pages are viewed, downloaded, printed or if the search returns no
The decrease in cost represents another step in the Judiciary’s
initiative to increase public access to court information that began with the
E-Government Act of 2002, which set requirements for providing public access to
government information over the Internet.