Twenty executives of legal technology companies and organizations signed on to a letter delivered this morning to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in favor of legislation that would eliminate the PACER paywall and modernize access to federal court records.
Executives from companies and organizations involved in legal research, docket research and legal information wrote in favor of H.R. 8235, the Open Courts Act of 2020.
(The full letter is embedded below.)
“The Open Courts Act would invigorate the legal technology ecosystem,” their letter says. “By making federal court materials freely available, the OCA would eliminate a major barrier to entry faced by the numerous entrepreneurs who dream of improving the way Americans find justice.”
The signatories say that, collectively, they represent many of the most widely used legal information tools in the United States.
“For our customers and consumers, access to PACER data means access to justice – but paywalled access often means navigating federal courts in the dark,” they write.
The letter does not explicitly call for passage of the act. Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase and one of the authors of the letter, said in an email that the letter is intended to be advisory, not lobbying.
The letter also indirectly addresses a lobbying effort by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, first reported by Fix the Court, that claims the cost of implementing “free PACER” would be $2 billion.
The letter from legal technology executives says that modernizing PACER would dramatically reduce its operating costs, and that, “thanks to modern software design and components,” the task of completing that modernization “is simpler than ever.”
“Our signatories are experienced at building these systems at scale, and we are confident that an upgrade of PACER need not be a major, multi-hundred-million dollar infrastructure project (much less a multi-billion dollar project).”
“PACER documents are a matter of public record, and they are in the public domain,” Walters told me. “Unless court documents are sealed, they should be open to the public without a paywall.
“The legal tech and online information community speaks with one voice in saying that the Open Courts Act would foster innovation by restoring federal court records to the public domain – while modernizing PACER in the process.”
Today’s letter to Speaker Pelosi was signed by:
- Pablo Arredondo, chief product officer, Casetext, San Francisco, CA.
- Andrew Arruda, CEO, ROSS Intelligence, San Francisco, CA.
- Josh Blandi, CEO, Unicourt, Tustin, CA.
- Tom Bruce, founder, Cornell Legal Information Institute, Ithaca, NY.
- Nicole Clark, CEO, Trellis Research, Los Angeles, CA.
- Itai Gurari, founder, Judicata, Ivins, UT.
- Jake Heller, CEO, Casetext, San Francisco, CA.
- Seamus Hughes, member, PACER User Group.
- Brewster Kahle, founder, Internet Archive.
- Mike Lissner, executive director, Free Law Project, San Francisco, CA.
- Carl Malamud, president, Public.Resource.Org, Healdsburg, CA.
- Peter Martin, founder, Cornell Legal Information Institute, Ithaca, NY.
- Rick Merrill, CEO, Gavelytics, Santa Monica, CA.
- Phil Rosenthal, president, Fastcase, New York, NY.
- Laura Safdie, COO, and general counsel, Casetext, San Francisco, CA.
- Michael Sander, founder and managing director, Docket Alarm, New York, NY.
- Janine Sickmeyer, founder and managing director, NextChapter, Columbus, OH.
- Tim Stanley, CEO, Justia, Mountain View, CA.
- Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase, Washington, DC.
- Adam Ziegler, director, Library Innovation Lab, Harvard Law School Library, Cambridge, MA