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Open Government

Lawsuit seeks to make judicial filings free

If easy access to government information is among the hallmarks of a vibrant democracy, the federal judiciary is not helping with the 10-cents-a-page charge for electronic access to court filings. The National Veterans Legal Services Program and two other nonprofit groups are pursuing a class action lawsuit hoping to recover what they argue are egregious overcharges.

The judicial system says current law allows it to demand payments for online access, even though the cost to the government is negligible, and that people wanting totally free access can come to the courthouse.

The case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the challengers have attracted an impressive array of supporting briefs from retired judges, news organizations, civil rights groups and a sponsor of the 2002 law. "There should be full public access to court records," retired federal Judge Shira Scheindlin told The New York Times. "It's an infinitesimal amount of money when you look at the total budget for the court system."

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