This is using PACER, what could
possibly go wrong? My name is Brian Carver and I’m co-founder with Michael Llissner of
Free Law Project, a non-profit which primarily seeks to put the entirety of
the United States case law online for the public, for free. We also developed
the website, which is a free online searchable database
currently over two and a half million court opinions. So, someone asked me to
create a demo of using the PACER system and so I thought I should give an example of an average person who might hear about a case in the news, perhaps on the radio, and decide they’re
interested in learning more. So, I picked an example from my own life. I heard
about a case out of the federal district court in Maryland that upheld a state
ban on assault weapons This was in mid August 2014 and so
suppose you’re interested in learning more about that case. Also let’s assume
that you heard and remember the name of the case, Kolbe vs [unclear] so I asked myself what the average
person would do in that circumstance. I think they would probably go to Google, type in
“federal district court Maryland” and the first result would be the website for
the District Court for the District of Maryland. Click on that and we see the
court’s website. As you start looking at the options down the side there’s CMS /
ECF attorney admissions calendar case information that sounds good probably a
click that let’s see what else there is CGA court information forms and manuals
ok let’s click case information now by clicking case information actually
headed down a dead in we don’t know yet the options that clicking on case
information reveals our Admiralty alternative dispute resolution courtroom
technology find your case administrator her recent opinions sounds good and
something about traffic offense so let’s click on recent a bit there you do find
a list of recent opinions from the District Court for the District of
Maryland fact in the screenshot I was able to get all of the ones from August
2014 that appear on this page and you’ll search in vain for anything remotely
like Kobe vs all-male it turns out that is reasonably onions page is only a
partial list of recent opinions but nowhere on this page does explain that
to you that this is an incomplete list and nowhere does it provide you with a
link to the Pacers site for the District Court for the District of Maryland
actually would give you access to additional recent opinions from this
court so I think most people would give up right here just not available on the
court’s website that case information but most likely link for you click on
doesn’t actually lead to the pager system in which case information resides
instead you have to do a really an intuitive thing if you were very
determined you might keep clicking around on the court website and maybe
you click on see him / ECU which stands for case management electronic case
filing terms that are not defined in the courts front page if you did CMCC and could read the fine print you see that your options were
electronic case filing laser procedures registration tutorials training and
forgot my password so you might think I would suggest taking on pacer and
actually would be could be wrong if you’re already a registered user you are
going to be disappointed by clicking on that pace early because clicking this
place really takes you off the District Court for the District of Maryland site without any warning that you’re
leaving their say and takes you to the nation like a sword art good website so
if that happened to you end up wasting some time ago site and clicking
background to finally get back to the base your site for the District Court
for the District of Maryland instead even though you just want to look at
opinions you know trying to file anything you need to do something sort
of an intuitive and click on electronic case filing remember this was supposed
to be an average person looking for court opinion non-lawyer member of the
public I think anybody would do this but let’s see what would happen if you did
click on the electronic filing think it would take you to this page which again
doesn’t give you a lot of options suppose you click on the only thing
other than protecting privacy the document filing system link again you’re
not finding anything that suppose you click that you would finally make it to
the pastry login page for the District Court for the District of Maryland so
now you need to login and password if you’re already a user probably played
that game before and knew that you need to jump through these hoops to even get
to the login page but if you’re not a place for user they do provide you a
link to be sure that go here you could go and register so let’s see what that
would be like if you need to register for a pacer account and you click on
that link in the middle of the page you go to the base our site and the register
button is right there on the top so you click that then it tells you you can
either click on some options to the left that’s a a pellet legacy District
bankruptcy legacy or you can click on Start but I don’t know what those legacy
thanks to Irvine mean that so let’s just click Start then gives me a choice
between view each file and/or attorney
admissions registration sort of guessing here that I’m not good
looking for attorney admissions and so it’s quick view brings this pop no prior it’s a good
thing because it shows me that this option is not exclusive to attorneys and
is available to everyone the option that what that most people
choose ok maybe I’m on the right track here when I see I’m going to have to
provide a credit card during registration i dont wanna provide a
credit card and get an activation code set by us- meal and I should allow 7 to
10 business days for mail delivery to use code cannot be mailed their extra
given her the fall then I also learned there’s a fee for accessing baser well
there’s no registration but I will generate a $0.10 per page charge systems
again there is a link to a retraining safe but I just wanted to get one
opinion so given what I know maybe I would proceed I sort of think that even
fairly determined people already given up but certainly give up at this point
the idea that they would have to provide a credit card or wait 10 days just to
look at this opinion I think about seems really unlikely to me let’s suppose we
press on registration form with a lot and required fields have to provide
personal last name date of birth address city state zip code country primary for
email confirm your email pick a time for the kill individuals an
option in the end of the drop down and there’s a capture that you need to
correct and complete they are also going to be asked for a username password
security questions and answers credit card billing information ok after
you get registered replacer one thing you might find while you’re on the basis
of such as they do have this laser case locator device a green case I’m
interested in this note down at the bottom indicates that newly filed cases appear
on the system within 24 hours under normal circumstances been almost two
weeks since the decision I’m interested in so advanced search and choose the
region maryland and type in part of the case name that I remember Kobe vs
O’Malley you may have noticed that colby is not spelled the most truly I’m not
even going to go through the various mistakes you could make with respect to
their suppose we got lucky and decided to type in a search George 10 set 7
non-responsive cases filed between 1995 and 2003 none of them are the colder
areas O’Malley case ok so I’m sure most people would do at that point probably
spend more money searching on variations of call the dress bellingham Ali
different ways things like that I actually did try searching O’Malley as a
party name rather than as part of the case I don’t show here because I don’t
think you wouldn’t even believe me that I didn’t pick this example on purpose to
make your case locator but it’s really talk terrible couple hundred results
come up none of which appear to be the case so I suppose you decide okay
educational caters working for me I want to just go to the District Court for the
District of Maryland website I find a link back there get back to the login page now
registered prepares for hurrican type in my login and password I’m used to measure requiring a lot of
required fields now so I might be a little scared by this claim code field i
dont wanna client code is if I have one reliever Blake login and you make it okay now what I
see at the top there some tabs reports utilities log out the first time
it will give you a page with an absolutely terrifying warning to talk a
little closer to warnings search results from this screen are not subject to the
thirty-page limit on Acer charges please be as specific as possible with your
search criteria so I personally have made some typos in the stakes on query
pages like this while using pacer and I’ve been charged over $50 for a
single mistake and search results page this is a really scary warning if you’ve
taken a bad search that gives you no search results still get charged $0.10
for that page telling you there are no response of results to your query if you
thought he should take Kobe vs O’Malley in that last / business name feel that
also work and you’ll get charged $0.10 for the unresponsive result so again the ice and
I’m going to type in Table II instead of C 00 L dy be 0 and you can spend a lot
of time and money just trying to sort that problem if it lasts Business Name
field we didn’t actually with a scene we actually get somewhat lucky that there
have been three parties in the District of Maryland with that last name so i get
charged $0.10 for that initial set of results and note this transaction
receipt showing that it was charged $0.10 always appears after I’ve already
been charged at the bottom of the page except for when we get to documents when
you’re just browsing around most of pace sure how much you’re going to be charged
or that you’re going to be charged is not clear to me interstitial warning page saying you
know you’re about to be charged incentives are you sure that does not
happen until you get to the documents themselves if you did click through on
each of these three colby’s gonna spend another ten cents figuring out that this
these are not the Kobe vs O’Malley case ok so we tried that didn’t work let’s
dive into the last business name and the reason I’m taking that approaches if you
haven’t seen the other options they are things that i dont no link to this
number and what that is case status for been closed all the file
date last entry day nature of soon cause of action none of those are things that
I would know just from hearing about a case on the news I have to go by his
last name first name middle name and maybe the
type party vs attorney so sweet Italian last name of a $0.10 again and I learned
into a forty-two people parties two cases and the District of Maryland
already seen from putting on a free call these that this can be costly what do i do well in this point if you
have a small male most legal and factual knowledge could save yourself a little
bit of time first if you have the legal knowledge
that litigation challenging a state statute often names the governor of the
state attorney general as a defendant and secondly if you had was little bit
of factual knowledge that martin O’Malley is the governor of Maryland at
the time of the suits filed then at least narrow it down to these O’Malley’s
that look like the governor that information just gonna be guessing you
have to click through all 42 I guess so you get lucky so there wasn’t listening
in there the somali honorable governor Mark what’s going on out there in a
single case but the wrong one Harrison their system only do go back a
long list of all maladies and I see the little there are variations on martin
O’Malley there are 12 fact some with misspellings some of his middle initial
some of his middle name fully spelled out someone potentially incorrect different person well the only option is to click each
one of these years what happens if you do that you click the first one to get
the wrong case the second one to get charged $0.10 get to Rome cases the
third one charged $0.30 you’ll have to scroll through 73 cases to make sure
that none of them are Kobe vs in the fourth formally charged $0.10 you see
two cases that are not the one you’re looking for you click on the 5th
formally charged $0.20 you have to scroll through 41 incorrect cases making
sure none of them sound anything like Kobe vs you click on the six to get the
wrong case you click on the 7th normally get charged $0.10 UC 500 cases because
the eighth to get the wrong case because the night in charge 10 cents and you
have to recognize that the seven out of the 10 entries that appear RKO be at all vs O’Malley and hopefully you recognize
that that’s another way to spell call me and you click on that there is the case
you’ve been looking for this docket for this year and the options or alias
associated cases of turning case file location case summary deadlines hearings
Dr report eilers history sites documents related transaction status murdoch ok so
most new users are gonna have no idea what to do text and hopefully by now they’ve
learned that mistakes are costly and unpredictably costly every time we were
charged $0.10 to $0.20 30 cents in the prior page with no warning about how
much we’re going to be true just gives you the transaction exceeded the box so
the best bets here look like a summary docket report history / documents or
maybe you would document i’m looking for a single document may be able to review
a document click on get this page shows the case in case of any document
provides a box to totally unclear what’s doing that because I’m familiar pacer I
think that what they want to do here is enter the document number of course I
don’t know the document number of pretending to be an average person or
just heard about this and even if I understand exactly what they’re asking
for here in most cases I’m not going to know that document I can imagine an
ordinary user typing opinion decision into this box and getting all kinds of
incorrect results so I should go back case I’m still well we get charged $0.10
we don’t get any documents and all get a list of attorney contacted that senator
go back again what’s going on history / documents get this page says we could
get all of its only events or documents can sort this sounds like maybe this
could work you know that it’s entirely clear from this page supposedly click on all the essential
documents to display the docket text give me the most recent stuff because
I’m looking for an opinion from twelve days ago when the lady sense without
warning and we finally can see the court opinion that we were looking for now you actually want to download think
of memorandum opinion document under seventy eight but a new user might spend
another ten cents thinking that the order number seventy nine if the
document is marked correctly there will be a charge for the event in itself here’s the interstitial page that shows
you their document is 47 pages and cost of zero and it says its bottom the
document you requested is 47 pages and there is no charge for you so you can
click on new document and get the support for this demonstration I
actually never used the history sites documents report picture once you
understand on a docket report is i think is more likely that he would click on
that option to learn about a case and all the other documents in the case so I
think we should go back and see how that if we clicked docket for this page it
shows the case number incase name and date boxes some document range boxes
boxes so even if I don’t understand all these options I might run report just
without changing anything let’s see what happens if we do that running the doctor for the charge $2.70
again without warning and at the bottom you can also find the opinion we’ve been
searching for well as making this record actually
released an amended document number 81 so that’s actually the one that I would
want so we can read the opinion let’s summarize what’s happening visit for website the district court
page and then the ECF website from your own head to register
for pacer can provide a credit card it should be obvious that you can easily
spend $2 to $4 were searching very persistently and very poorly much much
more clicking around while you’re trying to
locate that all three of them here that you are so experience of using Pacers
really hard to convey what you quickly learn that it feels like walking in mind
you but you never know that building dialogue is going to appear and how bad
the damage will be if you’re a user with some price sensitivity that element of
surprise billing makes the system utterly unusable finding where to go and
what to search for I think basically not feasible for the average member of the
public even if they’re not price-sensitive and then another thing
that I haven’t shown yet but duplicate billing for the same page during the
same session is particularly owners when using pacer while I was making the demo
i click the back button to go back to the doctor and was charged again for the
doc yet several different times when I am telling people about using pacer I
use them on true beware the back but so much the same process on court go to
court to see the main page has this big search bar in the middle and next to it
is a little icon of a courthouse that if you put your mouse over pop up appears
in syslog jurisdiction so we can click on the courthouse icon in the
jurisdiction picker will come now use the pace record locator limit my
search to Maryland’s us to same thing here you can do it you could type
Maryland into the text box or you could clear all the checkboxes by clicking
clear all the federal district and then just click the box for the District of
Maryland scroll down and click on Apply to save your changes and you do that
takes you back immediately to the Advanced search where you see these options and I think
we should order or results result ordering option you can change it
from defaulting relevant to the newest first since we know we’re looking for a
recent opinion will also see it shows that there’s one jurisdictions elected
district and again as our case the same thing I did on the pace of ok then
search results currently actually don’t have a lot of
the District of Maryland opinions and two of the top versus O’Malley 14 August
22nd and another from August 12 so there’s an example of listener typically
will catch you an opinion and then also issue an amended opinion has happened in
this case so suppose I click on the top result we get the opinion and we can now
read it right here on the corner website or on the left-hand margin there’s this
section called you original you click on the link old are back up you can look at
the original doesn’t always have recent federal
district court opinions actually make sure that we had this one just for the
purposes of this demo we are working to a degree federal district court opinions
in the US but as you saw it makes getting access to federal district court
opinions difficult and expensive you can actually help us with this problem sign up for an account on cordless phone
which is totally free use it let us know what else you’d like to see there you
can support our non-profit free love project with the donation a cordless
know that comes and you can also download the reach a browser extension
if you use Firefox Chrome recap the law . word what recap is is a partnership
between Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy and relock
project it is a suite of browser extensions that improve your experience
when you’re browsing pacer not only improve your browsing experience but
also simultaneously build a free and open repository of those court records
for the quick look at what it does do have to use pacer then when you install
recap and you do the same sort of things that we just did you see the little blue
recap icon sprinkled through your doctor reports and other pages on Pacers and
that tells you that the recap archive already has this document you can click
on the icon rather than the a search and download that same document 43 from our
repository also pay for a document not in the picture and then the recap
extensions automatically upload that to our archive so the next person can get
it for 43 love project that or should I come and we kept the water this is using days
or what could possibly go wrong