Free Access to Documents Stirs Up Court Administrators

21 Sep Free Access to Documents Stirs Up Court Administrators

Federal court documents, including Bankruptcy Court filings, accessed through a new program called RECAP (PACER spelled backwards) can be viewed without cost. RECAP is an add-on to the free internet browser Foxfire. Because the courts generate revenue to operate their electronic record system called CM/ECF, a program that bypasses their ticket window causes some court administrators concern.

An article in the blog hosted by Public Citizen accuses the courts of using scare tactics to discourage use of RECAP.In some districts, messages have been posted on court websites expressing concerns about the safety of using the program. PACER users permitted free access are cautioned that their user agreement could be violated by use of RECAP. Email messages have been sent out to various users implying that unintentional disclosure of confidential documents could occur from RECAP use.

The administrative office of the US Courts is concerned about RECAP for a very good reason. If the RECAP program was widely used, the funds needed to maintain the electronic filing system could be significantly impacted. In this time of financial retrenchment, budget increases are few and far between. The delicate balance between open courts and the money to operate them is brought into sharp focus in this Gov 2.0 move to provide free information access to individuals.

Bankruptcy lawyers should be careful in use of this new technology. While court records are accessible to everyone for a small fee, there is a record kept when the filehas beenaccessed through the court pay per view PACER system. Before using RECAP and adding documents to the “free for all” database, it would be a good idea to first ask your client if they want their personal financial information made more readily accessible to anyone with a compute. I suspect the answer will be clear; most bankruptcy debtors would prefer to keep their financial distress to themselves to the extent that is possible in such a proceeding.

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I was admitted to practice in 1978. I am certified as a Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist by the American Board of Certification. I regularly speak on tax and bankruptcy issues at state, regional and national conferences. Years of experience in practice before the Internal Revenue Service and Oregon Department of Revenue have given me the background to resolve a large variety of consumer tax issues.
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