Thanks to Legal Dockets Online for alerting me to the PACER recycling center, run by the folks at Public.Resource.org. Basically, this gathers “recycled” court filings donated by people who have paid to access them via PACER, then offers them free on the Internet.
According to the FAQ, here’s how it works:
Just upload all your PACER Documents to our recycling bin. Click on the recycle bin and you’ll be presented with a dialogue to choose files to upload. Then, just hit the “Start Upload” button and you’ll hear the sounds of progress as your documents get reinjected into the public domain.
We’ll take the documents, look at them, and then put them onto bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/pacer for future distribution. This is a manual process and you won’t see your documents show up right away. But, over time, we hope to accumulate a significant database of PACER Documents.
While the ideal of making law freely available on the Internet is admirable, I’m not really convinced of the value of this system. So far, the total number of documents offered looks very slim – only time will tell if that number increases enough to be useful. However, I’m also not seeing that any dockets are available, which puts the documents that are there somewhat out of context.
More troublesome, however, is that unlike the fanciful site instructing you to upload your PACER docs, viewing the already uploaded documents is not nearly as pretty. Basically, you’re presented with a list of folders in which you must browse your way through state, court, docket number, and a few other folders whose labels I couldn’t decipher. No search engine to be had, as far as I could see. Nothing in the way of instructions either. Perhaps more sophistication is to come and it’s simply too early to tell.
Frankly, in the realm of free PACER alternatives, you’re much better off with Justia. Not only is there a lot more content, the search interface is excellent. And it’s got dockets, RSS feeds, and more.