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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PACER gets a facelift

The new and improved PACER website -- the digital case tracking service for federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts -- is now up and running. In short, the interface has been completely overhauled. The changes are largely cosmetic, but the site is definitely less cumbersome, more user-friendly and easier on the eyes. As always, PACER provides access to
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  • Federal court dockets (excluding U.S. Supreme Court)
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  • U.S. District courts including Federal District Courts of Texas
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  • Full-text opinions & orders for courts using CM/ECF system
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  • Case file documents and reports of case-related information
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  • Chronologies of events entered in the case record
And now these documents are easier to access thanks to the new Case Locator feature. This service, which replaces the Case/Party Index, offers more search options and the ability to manipulate your search results. You will still be accessing the same individual court websites, but searching within PACER will be less clunky.

Also, as part of a pilot project, PACER now offers digital audio recordings of trial proceedings in six district courts (Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York, Rhode Island and Maine) and one bankruptcy court (North Carolina). Until now, these recordings were only available on CD at a cost of $26. Digital files available through PACER cost just $2.40.

Finally, the new PACER site provides a directory of telephone contacts for automated case information. The U.S. Supreme Court Clerk's Automated Response Systems (CARS) "permits callers using a standard touch-tone telephone to obtain the status of cases on the U.S. Supreme Court automated docket from an automated voice synthesizer response system." The VCIS (Voice Case Information System) and AVIS (Appellate Voice Information System) "use an automated voice response system to read a limited amount of bankruptcy or appellate case information directly from the court's database in response to Touch-Tone telephone inquiries." Currently, these services are offered at no charge.

To learn more about PACER, check out the PACER User Manual for ECF Courts.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Houston's Legal History

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian

The city of Houston was founded in 1836 and was so named in an attempt to convince the Texas Congress to designate it the capital of the Republic. As of January 1, 1837, the town boasted a population of 12. By the time the first legislature of the newly formed Republic of Texas met in the capital ‘city’ of Houston on May 1, 1837, there were over 1500 residents, including 15 to 20 lawyers. (Handbook of Texas Online, “Houston, Texas”; and Chapman, Betty T. “Lawyers created bar association to clean up professional image.” Houston Business Journal 31 Mar. 2000: 32A) One such lawyer was George C. Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Perhaps because Houston was the first capital of the Republic, area lawyers have been instrumental in the development of legal proceedings in Texas. Peter W. Gray, the first president of the Houston Bar Association, was in the Texas House of Representatives in the First Legislature and the Senate in the Fourth Legislature. He authored the first bill regulating Texas court proceedings (Chapman, 2000: 32A). Gray formed a partnership with his cousin Walter Browne Botts in 1865, and their firm survives today as Baker & Botts.

Lawyers have been instrumental in the development of the city: Frank Andrews, founder of Andrews & Kurth, was one of the developers of the Houston Ship Channel and Montrose. Two attorneys for Fulbright & Jaworski were trustees of the MD Anderson Foundation and helped establish the Texas Medical Center. Area lawyers and judges have also been instrumental in the development and promulgation of legal education in Houston. The growth of the oil industry in the 1920s created a need for lawyers trained in Texas law to handle all aspect of the oil business (Anglim, Chris. “South Texas College of Law: Houston’s Gateway to Opportunity in Law.” 369 S. Tex. L. Rev 922.). To answer this need and to further legal education in general, several prominent lawyers and judges joined with the YMCA in 1923 to open the finest law school in Texas, known today as South Texas College of Law.

On display now in the lobby of the Fred Parks Law Library is Exhibit A: Houston’s legal history. Containing materials from the Special Collections Department, this exhibit will be up through August 13th.