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Courts Can Provide Documents in a More Cost-Effective Manner

GGD-91-30: Published: Feb 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined federal courts' distribution of copies of judicial opinions and other court documents to the public, focusing on: (1) court practices for providing access to documents; (2) court fees for photocopying documents; and (3) how the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals provided copies of its decisions through subscriptions.

GAO found that: (1) although the 10 district courts it examined allowed public access to their documents, their distribution procedures varied; (2) the differences among court practices mainly involved the acceptance of requests by telephone, prepayment of fees, the availability of public copying machines, and acceptance of credit cards; (3) in 1959, the Judicial Conference of the United States doubled the standard fee for document copies to 50 cents per page; (4) the courts retained the fee rate to deter frivolous and irresponsible requests for copying services, but some courts instituted alternative procedures enabling requesters to obtain copies of court documents for less than 50 cents; (5) two courts allowed requesters to make their own copies of court documents for about 25 cents; and (6) three courts contracted their photocopying services to private vendors that charged the public a fraction of the standard fee.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As a result of a survey conducted by the Court Administration Division, various copy alternatives are being publicized in the monthly Court Administration Bulletin and a section in the Clerk's manual makes reference to copy reviews.

    Recommendation: The Director, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC), should determine the range of options courts are currently using to provide access to their documents. With this expanded information on the courts' current practices, the Director, through the Judicial Conference of the United States, should inform courts of the options available and encourage each court to adopt the one, if any, the court clerk believes is best. An option should be adopted only if it does not increase the burden on the courts' staff, does not degrade the service the court currently provides, and does not increase the cost to the requester.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts


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