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March 03, 2009

Joe Lieberman does something good: Urges judiciary to free PACER

Credit where credit is due: Sen. Joe Lieberman is using his power as chair of the Senate Oversight Committee to push the federal judiciary to stop charging users 8 cents per page to download federal court filings online.

In a letter sent last week, Lieberman asked why — when as of the end of 2006, the federal judiciary had a $150 million surplus in its technology fund — the judiciary continues to charge the public for documents. Last we checked — and we use PACER pretty much every day — it was 8 cents per page for most documents, a fee that can create quite a tally by the end of the month for journalists, lawyers and those twisted souls who read court filings in their spare time.

“While charging for access was initially required, Section 205(e) of the E-Government Act changed a provision of the Judicial Appropriation Act of 2002 (28 U.S.C. 1913) so that courts ‘may, to the extent necessary’ instead of ’shall’ charge fees ‘for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment,” Lieberman wrote. [WSJ Law Blog]

Go get 'em, Senator.


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If Congress wants the downloading of court documents to be free, then they should have changed "shall" charge to "shall not" charge, instead of "may" charge.

I hope they do. In the meantime, Congress can apply pressure on the judiciary to do the right thing. Since Congress controls the judiciary's budget, a little nudge from a powerful senator can go a long way.

Yeah, with all the massive amounts of information available for free on the web, PACER is kind of a freak of nature. It's bad enough that the states nickel and dime us with document charges, but the feds are usually pretty good about giving away stuff for free.

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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