The Texas Supreme Court recently began a project transferring more than a decade of case files on microfiche to PDF documents, with an end plan of posting them online so everyone can access them at no cost.
Blake Hawthorne, clerk of the Texas Supreme Court, said the Texas State Law Library asked him 10 years ago if he had any interest in getting a filing cabinet full of microfiche, with case files from 1982 to 1999.
“They couldn’t maintain their microfiche machine because of the cost and they had very few people interested in actually coming to the library and coming to look at those files,” he said.
Hawthorne said the court has already shifted towards digital and scanning these files into PDF format was the appropriate step.
“Putting case files online for attorneys who are interested in what the court has said before in other cases and what their arguments were in those cases, it helps them hone their arguments and make better arguments for the court,” he said. “In addition to that, there could be genealogists or other researchers interested in this information.”
Craig Enoch, a former Texas Supreme Court justice says it’s important the courts evolve with changes in technology to protect access to justice.
“If people feel they can’t afford going to the courts and seeking redress, then part of our civilization starts to fall apart,” he said.
According to Tiffany Gilman, archivist with the Texas Supreme Court, microfiche have been known to be a reliable storage format.
“They’re basically indestructible,” she said.
Gilman says high profile cases that have reached the Texas Supreme Court will be included in the online inventory of case files when the project is completed, which is expected to take around four to five months.
The court hopes paper files from 2005 to 2013 can eventually be scanned into PDF format so the public can read them as well.