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Although both Lexis Nexis and West Group offer products to access federal dockets, they get much of their information from a service of the United States Judiciary called PACER. According to its Web site, “Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts, and from the U.S. Party/Case Index.” There is no charge for registration, but the user is charged $.07 per 54-line page displayed on screen; the charge is billed quarterly. In some cases PACER’s sister system, RACER (for Realtime Access to Court Electronic Records), can display scanned images of docket material, but RACER is not available in every court. Other courts can supply document images through PACER itself. Whichever program a court uses, it will charge $.07 per page image. (It appears that PACER and RACER view a similar, if not quite the same, database, although RACER docket entries may include hyperlinks to scanned images, and PACER usually does not. A PACER search may not have the same currency as a RACER search, but a PACER logon/password combination will work on the RACER system. Although RACER includes public access and neither RACER or PACER are actually real time, the acronyms are easy to remember.) REGISTERING FOR PACER PACER registration is easy. Go to pacer.psc.uscourts.gov, choose the “Register for Pacer” option, follow the directions to either download a form or call the PACER registration center and ask for one to be sent. Within a week or two the U.S. Postal Service will deliver an information packet including a login name and password. You can change the password — and will probably want to — but the logon name is “users,” at least for the time being. While you’re waiting for your package, or before you decide whether you want to bother, you can download a PDF version of the PACER manual from pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/documents/pacermanual.pdf. (As always, you’ll need at least Acrobat Reader to read the PDF file.) PACER looks at a group of databases maintained by the clerks of the various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, and the bankruptcy, civil and criminal areas of the U.S. district courts. Generally, you have to narrow your search to a specific court and/or court division. But PACER does maintain a U.S. Party/Case Index that includes limited case information from many, but not all, of the court systems. Searchable items in the national database include a three-digit “Nature of Suit” code — 220 for a mortgage foreclosure matter or 820 for a copyright case — party name, or date-filed range, all within a merged database or a database for a particular court. Once you have your login, you can go explore at pacer.psc.uscourts.gov, change your password, and check the status of your account and amount owed, all sorted, if you like, by client code. SEARCHING WITH PACER Except for the U.S. Party/Case Index, a PACER search begins with a Web page of some specific court. Although we have a federal court system, that doesn’t mean that each court must handle its data files and public access the same way. At least the U.S. district courts that we checked have a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) in the form www.xxyd.uscourts.gov, where xx is the two-letter state code and y the district designation. (The district court for the Northern District of Illinois is www.ilnd.uscourts.gov, while the district court for the Northern District of California is www.cand.uscourts.gov.) Bankruptcy court substitutes a “b” for the “d.” Thus the bankruptcy court for the Southern District of New York is www.nysb.uscourts.gov. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is www.ca7.gov. If you can’t remember the URL formula you can always go to the main page of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts at www.uscourts.gov, click on the “U.S. District Courts” link, then on “Court Links” on the next page, the federal circuit on the resulting map, and finally the court you want from the resulting list.) Once you find a particular court’s Web page, you should be able to find a PACER link if that court has PACER. Most, but not all, federal courts participate in Web-based PACER; check with the clerk of the court you are attempting to search if you can’t find a PACER link. Alas, federal court Web sites are not uniform, so finding the link on one site doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to find the link on the same spot on another. (If, for some reason, you can’t access the Web, most courts offer modem dial-up service, at $.60 per minute but no “per page” fee.) TESTING PACER I tested PACER on the ILND (Northern District of Illinois) Web site. To test, choose “Docket Search” and enter case number, party name, filing date range or update date range, or all of the above. Click on the search button to find the cases corresponding to your request. (Be careful about capital letters and lowercase; the PACER search inexplicably distinguishes between “A” and “a;” a search for one will not catch the other.) At the bottom of the screen you’ll find a “Pacer Service Center Transaction Receipt” showing the time and date, client code, search criteria, number of billable pages and the cost. (The cost, of course, is the number of billable pages multiplied by $.07.) I extended the test to the San Diego PACER system, for the Southern District of California. This PACER system worked in a way that was similar to the Northern District of Illinois PACER, but most document listings hyperlink the document, providing scanned images directly from the PACER docket report, and the docket report looks a little different. The CASD site doesn’t seem to have RACER. If you need help, the PACER manual or the toll-free Pacer Service Center number should provide the information you need. I didn’t test PACER in the bankruptcy courts, where Social Security numbers can be searched and creditor lists downloaded, but general PACER registration works with the bankruptcy PACER, also. USING RACER The Northern District of Illinois RACER had more options than PACER — it was nice to be able to search for cases by attorney, or judge’s docket, for example — and worked a little differently. Using RACER, the initial report shows Case Number, Date Filed, Plaintiff, Defendant, Type (CV, presumably for Civil), and the name of the judge and the magistrate, if any, assigned to the case. My report pulled one case. Cost: $.07. I clicked on the case number to display the docket, and was charged $.14 for two pages. The complaint, answer, motions and a couple of minute orders themselves had links to scanned images and showed the number of pages and the size of the PDF file that could be downloaded. The 15-page complaint, had I wanted it, was contained in a 368 Kb file and would presumably cost $1.05 to download. CONSIDERATIONS PACER seems to work well, is not difficult to use, and isn’t very expensive. It is not as flexible as Lexis’ eAccess Courtlink front end, doesn’t do automatic updates and, of course, deals only with federal courts. If you want to search in multiple courts for cases of which you are not yet aware, or track changes in a lot of cases, eAccess is much easier to use, but is much more expensive. If you simply want to track a few specific cases or to check to see if a scanned image of a filed document might be available for downloading, PACER will do it for a lot less. Neither system has a minimum charge. Become familiar with both and use the one that makes sense in a particular situation. SUMMARY If you practice in the federal courts, or have an interest in federal court cases, you should sign up for a PACER account, just in case you might need to check a docket some day. DETAILS PACER Service Center, P.O. Box 780549, San Antonio, TX 78278. Phone: (800) 676-6856 or (210) 301-6440. Web: pacer.psc.uscourts.gov. E-mail: [email protected].

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