The federal Judiciary has opened the application period for membership in its public user group that provides advice and feedback on ways to improve electronic public access (EPA) services. The EPA Public User Group consists of up to 12 members representing a cross section of people who use the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system to access federal court records, including representatives of the legal sector, commercial enterprises, the media, academia, government agencies, and the public.
The application period is open until April 30, 2022. Interested individuals should fill out an application form and submit it to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO). The two-year terms begin on July 1.
The EPA Public User Group holds an annual, in-person meeting in Washington, D.C. (COVID-19 pandemic conditions permitting) and additional meetings are held as needed via phone conference. Meeting agendas and summaries are made available on USCourts.gov.
Members will be selected by the AO based on user type, experience accessing court electronic records via PACER, frequency of usage, an account status in good standing, and a commitment to collecting additional feedback from peers. Current members of the group may reapply for a second term. Members serve no more than two consecutive terms.
The group, first formed in 2020, has contributed to a variety of improvements to the Judiciary’s electronic public access services. Recommendations from the group were instrumental in the creation of a pro se user page on the PACER website, improvements in the PACER Case Locator, and raising awareness among courts of the importance of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.
The newly appointed EPA Public User Group will be serving during a time that the Judiciary has undertaken a project to modernize its Case Management and Electronic Case Files system (CM/ECF) and PACER, the portal used by the public to access court records in that system. As part of the modernization effort, the Judiciary has requested input from industry on a potential unified search capability for documents within the CM/ECF. More information can be found on SAM.gov.
PACER allows instantaneous access to virtually all documents filed by judges and the parties in all U.S. courts of appeals, district courts, and bankruptcy courts. It provides a single point of access to more than 1 billion documents housed at more than 200 federal courts. In operation for more than 30 years, PACER today has about 3 million user accounts.
The legal sector is the largest group of PACER users, at 63 percent of the total. Next are litigants, who make up 10 percent, followed by commercial businesses, 7 percent, and creditors, 3 percent. Non-profit organizations and the media each account for 2 percent of PACER users.
Seeking input to improve PACER services, the Judiciary conducted a survey of users in 2021. Eighty-four percent of users reported being satisfied with the service in the survey conducted for the AO by Deloitte. Overall satisfaction was highest among creditors, commercial businesses, and private investigators who use PACER and lowest among non-profit organizations and the media.
The 2021 overall satisfaction rate was lower than the rate in a similar survey in 2012, when 90 percent of users reported being satisfied with the service. The decrease was attributed to a decline in satisfaction with PACER’s search functionality, which is one of the areas the Judiciary is focusing on in the modernization effort.
In the 2021 survey, users were generally satisfied with new and improved services put in place in recent years. Of nine new or improved services, users said they most appreciated a central sign-on feature, making it possible to access records at multiple courts, and increased fee waivers. In 2019, the Judiciary raised the quarterly fee waiver from $15 to $30, resulting in 75 percent of users paying no fee in a given quarter.
Access to case information via PACER costs 10 cents per page and the cost to access a single document is capped at $3, the equivalent of 30 pages. Litigants receive a free electronic copy of each document filed in their case, the public has free electronic access to case information at the courthouse, and judges’ opinions are available online for free. In addition, courts may exempt individuals or groups, such as indigents, pro bono attorneys, academic researchers, and not-for-profit organizations from paying the fee.
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