Court Watch #8: DOJ Goes to Antarctica
Plus: Cocaine Queens, Arsonist Firefighters, AlphaBay, and Giraffes
However before the Joy to the Judicial World, we must start off a bit melancholy. The U.S. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided a bill to make PACER free (and thus saving 14 million dollars) had no place in a $1.7 trillion dollar budget. Long time readers (e.g., a month and a half), will recall Court Watch has a strong disdain for court fees. As we’ve said in the past, our PACER fees could fund a coup in a small country. We support a free PACER system. Alas that’s not the only thing preventing transparency of the judiciary branch. Listen, we’re all for a federal court records system that allows the public to access its records without fees. But the long and the short of it is that even with a completely free record system, PACER would still be a labyrinth. The 94 districts all have their own local quirks and rules. In some districts, everything is automatically unsealed in 90 days. In others, 180 days. In most others, unsealing is but by the whim and mood of an underpaid and occasionally moody Assistant U.S. Attorney.
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Even with free access, it doesn’t change that every court is run like a chief judge fiefdom with each having different black robe royal decree rules. Also, there is no uniformity on how they file things in each district. If I’m on the east coast, new cases are tagged as ‘mj’. In the midwest, it’s likely to be ‘mc’. If none of those acronyms make sense, then you’re both much cooler than us and also proving our point that a free PACER system solves the immediate problem of access but the lack of uniformity on filing standards ultimately stymies true public understanding of the courts.
So in totality, no free PACER and no transparency. Encumbered by these truths, Court Watch presses on. In the short term, you can help offset our Congress-won’t-fix ridiculous court fees with a paid subscription. In the long term, we have some work to do on court access and Court Watch is committed to helping the public get there. But for now we’re off our soapbox and onto the docketbox.
In this eighth issue, we’ll go from the coldest place on earth to the cocaine queen of Honduras. We’ll also talk about Taylor Swift, Toxic Wastelands, and Donna Summers.
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