Earlier this year, I spent a month litigating the Apple and Epic dispute. The case was one of the biggest competition laws in recent memory, and it was brought to light notices both from companies and the larger technology industry, often in the form of legal applications. I (and other editors) try to pick the most important details from these archives for readers. But sometimes you should check the documents yourself. A site called CourtListener makes it easier than it may sound – if you know how to look.
U.S. federal court documents are assumed to be publicly available through the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system. But like someone who often uses PACER, I can confirm that it is a really frustrating system. Registration is cumbersome, performing a search or retrieving one page of a document costs 10 cents, and all of these fees increase rapidly if you’re looking for information about a case. PACER is basically a robbery mechanic of video games in the legal system.
This limits access to resources that can help people understand U.S. law and countless individual news reports better. (Some editors resubmit and link files through Scribd or DocumentCloud, but not all outlets follow this policy.) It also rules out a lot of things that are simply interesting or fun. Want to read about FBI agents hunting for a possibly mythical a cache of gold stolen from the U.S. Treasury during a segregated secret society and hidden in an underground cave network? The legal system is covered. That’s it this recent verdict on the Federal Trade Commission’s case against Facebook, which may include the most significant description of MySpace and Friendster ever:
At the beginning of our century, in the much earlier days of the Internet, many websites began to offer so-called. Social networking services.
If you want it in format Star Wars start indexing:
Fortunately, there is an informal PACER workaround. CourtListener, hosted by the nonprofit Free Law Project, hosts a free and open archive of millions of archives. It includes court statements, votes on oral arguments at trials, and something called In the RECAP archive – where you will find a lot of the most interesting material. It contains long back and forth between Apple and Epic, the government ‘s arguments such as cryptocurrency fraud claims against late antivirus cage John McAfee and important legal decisions as if the judge were throwing the above Facebook competition law.
The RECAP archive is a huge publicly funded library based on a browser extension of the same name. When a user with the RECAP plug-in logs in to the PACER and downloads the document, a copy is saved in the archive. Anyone can use it from there, regardless of whether the plug-in is installed.
RECAP depends on the file shared by PACER users, so you usually can’t get documents that no one has searched for. But if you’re reading a lawsuit or a major criminal trial in the news, there’s a good chance you’ll find details in the archive. (One catch: PACER covers the federal court system, so if someone was sued or charged at the state level, you’re probably unlucky.)
Navigating in CourtListener can be a little overwhelming. In the RECAP archive, it is useful to search by the name of a party and then narrow the search by filtering the jurisdiction selected by district or state. For example, if you know a company has been sued in California, you can select four California districts from the “Federal Districts” tab. Sorting by “Latest Cases First” can be useful for newly filed lawsuits and criminal charges, and “Latest Documents First” can be good for cases that have just been decided. If you already have one document for a case, you can search for the case number at the top of each page and search for it as well.
When you click on the case, you get its cover: a long memo of everything that has happened. At the beginning of the list you will probably find a complaint or prosecution that contains allegations against the prosecution. You may also see a list of exhibits or evidence such as email chains or photos. Below you can find the orders in which the judge makes the decision. If these documents have been uploaded to the archive, you will see a link to download the file. If they are not, RECAP can direct you to PACER if you have an account – in which case this also is a good time install RECAP and start downloading.
It is important to remember that litigation documents are written for companies, individuals and agencies with a specific agenda and do not necessarily tell the whole story of the event. (For example: the FBI did not find hidden gold.) Their interpretation often requires background information on certain conditions and past cases, although there are resources that can help, such as a writer and an attorney. Orin Kerrin’s guide reading the judge’s opinion. Still, they are a valuable tool to dig into the biggest stories Limit covers – and sometimes fun.