|News Media Update||NEW JERSEY||Secret Courts|
New Jersey federal court launches online access program
- Attorneys are now required to file most civil pleadings electronically, making it easier for the public to access court records.
Jan. 6, 2004 — The U.S. District Court in New Jersey yesterday joined the growing ranks of federal courts that require lawyers to file all civil case pleadings in electronic format, making it easier for the public and press to obtain copies of them.
“It’s a major change for us, and I’m waiting to see how it’s going to be accepted by the bar,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel B. Rosen told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a Jan. 5 story. “It’s certainly going to give the public more access to the courts.”
According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, the District of New Jersey becomes the 36th of the nation’s 94 federal district courts to have adopted the electronic filing system, known as Case Management/Electronic Case Files. The CM/ECF system is almost universally used in the nation’s bankruptcy courts, and its implementation is scheduled to begin at the federal appeals court level at some point this year.
Under the new rules, which went into effect yesterday, attorneys handling civil cases in the New Jersey federal court must file their initial complaint in both paper and electronic “Portable Document Format,” also known as a PDF file. Subsequent pleadings should be filed in electronic format only, either through a direct link on the court’s Web site (www.pacer.njd.uscourts.gov) or by delivering a computer diskette to the court clerk, who will then scan the file into an online database.
The court’s new requirements do not apply to pleadings already on file, and they do not apply to criminal cases. The criminal case exemption is based on a September 2001 determination by the Federal Judicial Center (the policymaking body for the federal courts) that permitting electronic public access to criminal case files could hamper ongoing investigations and jeopardize the safety of witnesses. That finding is currently being reconsidered by the judicial center.
The chief benefit of an electronic filing system to the news media is that it is much easier for reporters to obtain potentially newsworthy pleadings. Previously, reporters covering a federal case in New Jersey had to contact the lawyers involved to obtain copies of briefs, which were usually filed only with the judge and not the clerk’s office. Now, briefs and other civil court pleadings will be accessible online for 7 cents per page, with a maximum charge of $2.10 per document.
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press