In what's being hailed as a win for the public, one federal court judge ruled (over the weekend) that the federal court system has been misusing the profits generated by the PACER and the CM/ECF system.
The Saturday ruling in the National Veterans Legal Services Program v. U.S.A. case found that several programs and purchases funded by the profits generated by the PACER systems, which climbs into the millions annually, were improper. While not a win, exactly, for either party, the case will continue to move forward as the court determines what exactly PACER fees can be used for.
Fees to the Rescue
Ask any active litigator, and they can surely tell you, PACER fees can add up. Sure, you get one free copy of everything filed in your cases, but there likely isn't a practicing federal litigator that hasn't just pulled a doc off PACER because they couldn't find the copy they downloaded (or forgot to save the free copy).
Reviewing the recent order, it's plain to see that the federal court put those fees to good use outfitting courtrooms with flat screen TVs and displays for jurors and attorneys. PACER pulled in $920 million between 2010 and 2016.
Unfortunately, as the order explains, only the technology that relates to providing the public with access to the court documents should have received money from the PACER fees. Notably, one of the tech expenditures that was okayed included improved audio recording equipment. In theory, audio recording equipment can be used to make electronic audio records which the public could access.
Lastly, the court found programs, such as a study aimed at helping the state of Mississippi provide public access to court documents, were not inline with the federal requiring PACER funds be spent in ways that improve public access to federal court documents.