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Judiciary Doubles Fee Waiver for PACER Access to Court Records

Sept. 17, 2019, 6:45 PM

The judiciary has approved an increase in the quarterly fee waiver for its PACER electronic records system from $15 to $30.

PACER has come under fire in recent years, with critics saying it erects a paywall on access to public court records.

It’s the subject of an ongoing litigation and there is legislation pending in Congress to eliminate fees.

The change is “an effort, obviously, to increase the number of people who can use PACER free and to limit the charges to the big bulk users, which in general have been financial institutions and other corporate entities,” said Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Garland addressed reporters on behalf of the Judicial Conference following its biannual meeting Sept. 17.

Approximately “87 percent of all PACER revenue is attributable to just 2 percent of users—large financial institutions and major commercial enterprises that aggregate massive amounts of data for analysis and resale,” the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement.

The fee waiver increase “will result in more than 75 percent of the system’s users paying no fee in a given quarter,” the court’s office said.

There are approximately 2.5 million registered PACER users, accessing more than 1 billion case documents on the system, the court’s office said.

Currently public access to PACER documents is 10 cents per page, with the cost for a single document capped at $3.

Free access is provided to litigants, through the local courthouse, and through exemptions for certain individuals or groups.

The change will go into effect Jan. 1.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com