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WASHINGTON — Coming soon to a federal court near you — digital audio recordings of courtroom proceedings available online. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) recently announced that two federal courts will launch the pilot project to make digital audio recordings of their proceedings publicly available online. The two courts are the U.S. District Court in Nebraska and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Those two courts, according to the AO, already have integrated their recording and case management/electronic case files systems to make some audio files available on the Internet. Three other courts will participate in the pilot project later this summer: the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Maine and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The public can access the audio recordings through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, known as PACER, which currently has more than 700,000 subscribers accessing docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts. Digital audio recording is not new to the federal court system. The AO noted that it has been the approved method of making an official record of court proceedings since 1999. It is used in most bankruptcy and district courts. Magistrate judges, according to the AO, account for most of the usage but 37 of the 642 active district judges also use digital recording. Courts now using digital audio recording generally make computer disks available for a fee of $26. Purchasers have to go to the clerk of the court’s office to buy the disks. But during the six-to-12-month pilot project, the public will have Internet access to the same content at a cost of 16 cents: eight cents for accessing the docket sheet and another eight cents for selecting the audio file. If access becomes permanent, the AO’s Electronic Public Access Program Office will set an appropriate fee after considering the impact on band-width, costs of the required technology and other factors.

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