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Beginning Jan. 1, the clerk for the Northern District of Georgia will make civil filings there available to the public electronically. They will be accessible via the Internet or computer modem for a fee through Public Access to Court Electronic Records, a service of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Currently, only federal dockets filed in the district are available through PACER ( http://www.pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/). But Luther D. Thomas, the Northern District clerk, said he hopes that making civil filings available online “will expand our level of service. It should reduce lines at the clerk’s office.” It also will lower costs. Federal court records are available through PACER for seven cents a page. At the federal clerk’s office, copies cost 50 cents a page. Civil documents available via PACER will include those filed in all Northern District divisions, including Atlanta, Newnan, Gainesville and Rome, Ga. They will not include criminal records or indictments, or Social Security cases, nor will they include depositions, or civil files that were scanned during the past year while the clerk’s office was running a demonstration project, Thomas said. Lawyers also will have to adjust to new privacy rules that require them, as of Jan. 1, to redact Social Security numbers, birth dates, and account numbers, and refer to minor children only by their initials in pleadings. According to an order handed down by the district’s chief judge, Orinda D. Evans, In re Adopting a Policy on Sensitive Information and Public Access to Electronic Case Files, Standing Order No. 02-01 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 17, 2002), “The responsibility for omitting or redacting these personal identifiers rests solely with counsel and the parties. The clerk will not review filings for compliance with this rule.” And, Evans’ order says, attorneys who don’t comply with the policy are subject to sanctions. Counsel who have a legitimate need for that information may obtain it through discovery without a court order. Thomas said the Northern District is implementing the privacy policy to protect against identity fraud. A handout similar to a letter sent last month to about 11,000 attorneys warns that lawyers “should think very carefully before filing any document with the court because that document, once filed, will be available on the Internet.” According to that handout, “While it is undeniable that the business of the court is presumed public, some of the information necessarily contained in court documents may be personal and in need of protection from wide dissemination and possible misuse.”

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