Reimbursement for PACER users welcomed by NNA

Oct 12, 2022

Member Alert
Contact: Lynne Lance,

The National Newspaper Association today applauded an announced settlement between public interest groups and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts that would reimburse users of the Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) system for payment of excessive fees.

NNA Chair John Galer, publisher of the Hillsboro (Illinois) Journal-News, urged Congress to press ahead with legislation that would curtail future high fees for access to federal court records.

Under a settlement with the National Veteran Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Alliance for Justice, PACER users could be reimbursed for up to $350 of fees paid between April 21, 2010, and May 31, 2018. A possibility of additional payments exists if funds remain in a $125 million settlement after the initial reimbursement and legal costs are compensated. The payments depend upon approval of the agreement by the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

NNA has been a decades-long supporter of legislation to relieve community newspapers of the burden of high fees for accessing court records through the federal electronic database. It supports S 2614, the Open Courts Act, by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, which would limit court fees.

The public interest lawsuit alleged that the fees had become a funding center for other U.S. Courts programs that had nothing to do with PACER, such as providing revenue for flat screens for jurors. Under the agreement, the court system will seek appropriations for such programs, as it does for most of its budget, rather than relying on user fees to raise money.

Galer said fees assessed for access to public records can become a barrier to the public’s right to know.

“The federal courts are a primary news source these days," Galer said. "They are dealing with hundreds of cases that involve public policy affecting Main Street and community newspaper readers. Reporters need to be able to see these records to report on the news affecting our towns. Maybe even more importantly, our readers need access so they can make sure that both the courts and our journalists are telling them what they need to know.” 

The settlement will reimburse past users. Galer advised journalists and others who had used PACER during the settlement period to be on the alert later in the year for emails with information on receiving the settlement.

Though the reimbursement is welcome, NNA continues to urge the Senate to pass the Open Courts Act.

“This reimbursement for the past users is long overdue,” Galer said. “But if Congress doesn’t set the ground rules, nothing in this lawsuit is going to prevent the same problem from happening again. The public should be able to find out about the public’s business.”