House members reintroduce bill to make electronic court records free to public
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House members reintroduce bill to make electronic court records free to public

Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) reintroduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act as HR 1164 Wednesday with cosponsors Mike Quigley (D-IL), David Roe (R-TN), and Henry “Hank” C. Johnson, Jr. (D-GA).

The full title of the bill is “To direct the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to consolidate the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system, and for other purposes.” The full text of the bill is not currently available, but it is expected to be substantially similar to HR 6714 from the second session of the 115th Congress last year. HR 6714 was introduced last September and referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary but failed to get a hearing. The aim of the bill is to eliminate paywalls preventing access to court records while also enhancing the availability, accessibility, and security of those records. The new bill has been referred back to the same committee.

The Electronic Court Records Reform Act comes in response to widespread criticism of access to court records under the current PACER system. PACER charges between 10 cents and $3 for access to various searches and court documents often on a per page basis. Renewed interest in this bill came after a federal judge for the District of Columbia held that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts was charging excessive fees to support PACER and using those funds in ways not permissible under 28 USC § 1913. US District Judge Ellen Huvelle noted in her memorandum opinion that between 2010 and 2016 PACER had collected over $920 million in fees.

The new bill now awaits a hearing from the judiciary committee where it will aim promote reform to both pricing and accessibility of electronic court records including audio and video files.