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Contacting Courts

November 28th, 2014 · No Comments

When you use a state court directory on CourtReference.com, one of the first things you notice is that we provide contact information – address, phone, and fax – for every state, county, and local trial court in the United States.

Anyone looking for court information online is most likely interested in what types of information are available online from the court. The information sought could be online access to court case records, court calendars, lawyer referral services, downloadable forms, or any of the other online resource categories that we provide via links. The types and sheer volume of information available online is growing so fast that we sometimes expect that any information one might need is on the World Wide Web.

But it’s not. Not every court has all of its cases, or its calendar, or any information at all online. In our post about court websites last month, we discussed the huge variance in the amount and quality of content on court websites (if they exist at all). If you can’t find the court-related information you need online, you must either contact the court directly, or pay a visit. Many court websites provide an e-mail address, perhaps even one for each public-facing employee. Still, most court offices are more accustomed to doing business by telephone; if you call during regular business hours, you are more likely to get an immediate answer by phone than by using e-mail. In-person visits also work well, especially if you need to look at files, posted court calendars, or other types of information that are not available online. That’s why we supply the address and telephone number for every court.

When you call or visit the court, it helps to know the roles of the people at the courthouse – or, as often as not, a separate annex or administrative office building. In a previous post, we described the people you’ll see in a courtroom setting: judge, jury, attorneys, bailiff, court clerk, court reporter, and more.  The only person on that list that most people will ever need to contact or visit is the court clerk. We discussed the various titles and roles of court clerks in another previous post. The court clerk’s office is the public-facing organization of most courts and court systems. If you want to file a case, look up records, or just ask for court-related information, the court clerk’s office is almost always your starting point. Only parties in a lawsuit can talk to the judge, and then only if the other party is present (most often, that means both parties’ lawyers are present). That’s why, when we provide contact information for a court, we usually provide the address, phone, and fax of the court clerk’s office.

As always, there are exceptions. For example, every Ohio county has a Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. But the Court of Common Pleas in most Ohio counties has separate divisions: General, Domestic Relations, Probate, and Juvenile. The clerk is almost always the clerk of the General and Domestic Relations divisions only; Probate and Juvenile judges serve as their own clerks. In practice, a Probate or Juvenile judge in Ohio will normally have a person or staff to handle clerical duties and interface with the public – but that’s not the Clerk of Court, and not part of the Clerk of Court’s office. When you visit an Ohio county page on CourtReference.com, the contact information for Court of Common Pleas General and Domestic Relations Divisions will normally be for the Clerk of Court; the contact information for Probate or Juvenile Division will be the separate office that serves that Division. In some counties, contact information for Probate or Juvenile Division will be the same as the judge’s contact information, although you probably won’t actually get to talk to the judge.

We provide you with the address and phone number that is most useful for obtaining court records and other court-related information. If you don’t need court information, but just need to know where to go to fight your ticket (or appear for any other trial or court business before the judge), the court clerk is often in the same location as the judge’s chambers and courtroom. In some counties, the historic courthouse may have beautiful courtrooms but insufficient office space for increasing busy clerk’s offices, so there is a separate annex or administration building. If the clerk’s office and courtroom are in separate locations, we provide the clerk’s address and then add (in italics) the location for actual court sessions. Here is an example for a Virginia Circuit Court, and one for an Ohio Municipal Court.

Another exception may be found in some Municipal Courts that serve small populations and may only be open one day a week. These courts may not have a clerk at all; the contact information might be for a town hall – which may or may not be where court is held - or it might be the judge’s home. We covered these here.

If the court’s address includes a post office box, we include it on the same line as the street address. The zip code for the post office box may not be the same as the zip code for the street address; we use the zip code for the post office box, because the zip code is most important for mailing purposes. If the mailing address is a different street number, street, or town than the physical address, we provide the mailing and physical addresses on separate lines. Here is an example from Virginia.

Also bear in mind that courts may change their locations by combining with other courts; we covered the sharing of court services in New Jersey Municipal Courts, consolidation of court systems in several states here, and realignment of Pennsylvania Magisterial District Courts.

If you’re not sure which court you need to contact, the first page of each of our state court guides explains the types of cases that each court handles. Here’s an example from Ohio. Note that in Ohio, if there are multiple Municipal Courts in a county, you also need to know which parts of each county are served by each Municipal Court; we provide that information as needed on each county page, and we explained it in detail here.

 

 

→ No CommentsTags: Court Systems · Courtreference.com · New Jersey · Ohio · Pennsylvania · Virginia

When Court Websites Come Up Short

October 26th, 2014 · No Comments

Businesses, organizations, units of government, even many individuals have websites. It’s no surprise that many courts also have websites. As with any other entity’s website, some court websites are better than others: easier to see what’s there, easier to navigate, with more content.

On some court websites, it’s obvious at first glance how to contact the court by mail and phone, how to search case records and court calendars, how to locate and download the forms you need, and how to pay fines online. An explanation of the court’s process; the types of cases the court handles; and links to court rules, special programs, the law library, and self-help resources are easy to find. Some court websites even include links to related agencies and organizations, such as probation departments, prosecutor’s offices, public defender offices, child support departments, legal aid agencies, and bar associations.

On the other hand, some court websites may include only a phone number or address – which might be incorrect if the website has not been maintained. The great majority of court websites fall somewhere in between content-rich and bare-bones, and in between easy and inscrutable. CourtReference endeavors to bring you all the available content for each court, no matter how difficult it may be to find on the court website – and even when there is no court website at all. We also include related resources from other state and local entities that relate to the court but are not normally found on a court website.

Take, for example a court with no website at all:  Fairfax Municipal Court in Allendale County, South Carolina. Although this court has no website, CourtReference uses multiple online sources to verify the court’s contact information, and it appears on our Allendale County page along with all the other courts in that county. Unless you called the court (using the phone number supplied by CourtReference), you wouldn’t know that you can search Fairfax Municipal Court case records online, and pay your fines and traffic tickets online. If you click the blue ”Online Resources” link under Fairfax Municipal Court, you’ll see our CourtReference page full of resources applicable to Fairfax Municipal Court – note that it includes not only the case record and payment resources unique to Fairfax Municipal Court, but it also includes many statewide resources that can help you understand your legal issues, or to find a lawyer to assist.

Let’s take a look at a court with a bare-bones website. Some Georgia municipal courts have their own content-rich websites, but many use a page from the Georgia state municipal court directory, which only contains contact information. For example, check out Trion Municipal Court in Chattooga County. Since most municipal court cases are traffic-related, you might want to know how to pay your fine. It’s not on the website, but it’s on CourtReference’s Online Resource page for Trion Municipal Court. Scroll down to the bottom of that page, to our Online fine payments category, and you’ll see that you can pay your regular traffic fine online – and if you were speeding a few too many times, you can pay your state-mandated “Super-Speeder” additional fine online too. Also note the many other resources, including “Municipal Court Information” in our Self help, legal research… category, which applies to all GA municipal courts.

Some court websites have links that are not easily noticed, such as these two examples from Brazoria County, Texas. The Clute Municipal Court website doesn’t make it easy to find its online citation payment link (it’s one of the options in the “Online Bill Pay” link at the top of the page). CourtReference has it in our Online fine payments category.

Still in Brazoria County, the Richwood Municipal Court website has its citation payment link in red to catch your attention – but it takes you to the home page of the payment provider, from which you have to navigate to the payment page. The link to Richwood Municipal Court’s online payments on CourtReference’s Online Resources page will take you directly to the payment page; just scroll down to our Online fine payments category. Speaking of Richwood Municipal Court, where is the link to its information about pleas, or the Driving Safety Course? They’re in the drop-down Departments menu but they only appear when you hover over Municipal Court. If you reached that website by searching for “Richwood Municipal Court” you wouldn’t see those links. CourtReference makes them easy to find, in our Self help, legal research… category.

In Decatur County, Georgia, the Bainbridge Municipal Court website has the clerk’s phone number and a brief description of the court, then some unrelated news items, then (if the “news” didn’t stop you) a link to its online fine payment. The court also has a searchable calendar, which is not found on the court website (the “Events Calendar” on that page doesn’t include court dates). It’s on our Online Resources page, in the Dockets, calendars… category.

Finally, in Blackford County, Indiana, the Clerk’s office website has contact information and hours – and very little else. You wouldn’t know from looking at this website that you can search for Blackford County case records online. Indiana has a statewide online record search, which you can find by clicking the “Online Resources” link under Blackford County Circuit Court or Superior Court. From our Online Resources page, you’ll find the case record search link in our Searching Case Records category – along with other searches including protective order records. In our other categories, you can check the court calendars and find links to laws, court rules, legal help, and forms.

I could go on and on about how much information you can find on CourtReference. Just because a court has a website doesn’t mean you can find it easily online. When you do find it, it may note have all the information you desire. On CourtReference, you can click once to select a state, click once to select a county, and voila! – the court contact information, a direct link to its website (if it has one), and links to many more helpful resources than you are likely to find on the best court websites.

 

 

→ No CommentsTags: Court Calendars · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Finding Court Records · Georgia · Indiana · Ohio · Technology · Texas · Uncategorized

Mental Illness Commitments

September 26th, 2014 · No Comments

Our 2008 blog post about mental illness cases introduced two aspects of that topic. Last month we covered Mental Health Courts – specialized court programs which can set up treatment in lieu of incarceration for some criminal offenders with mental health problems. For those offenders, their mental illness may have been a contributing factor in their commission of a crime, but is not severe enough to warrant commitment to a mental institution.

In order to be committed, a mentally-ill person must be dangerous to himself or herself or to others, or be unable to care for himself or herself. Criteria vary from state to state, but are generally quite restrictive. In most states, for example, an expressed desire to kill oneself is not sufficient, but an actual attempt usually is. At least one – and usually two – independent evaluations by a psychiatrist are required before the court hears the case.

In many states, courts of general jurisdiction handle involuntary commitments. In other states, jurisdiction falls to the Probate Court. In Michigan, for example, involuntary commitments are handled by Probate Court, and both Genesee County Probate Court and Grand Traverse County Probate Court have detailed explanations of the process. In Texas, jurisdiction varies by county; commitments may be handled by County Constitutional Courts, County Courts at Law, or Probate Courts. Dallas County Probate Court has a special division: Dallas County Mental Illness Court.

In New Jersey, commitments are handled by Superior Courts – which in New Jersey are courts of general jurisdiction serving a single county, or two smaller counties. In Kansas, commitments are handled by District Court; in Maryland, by Circuit Court ; and in Mississippi, by Chancery Court.

People who find themselves in Mental Health Courts are there because they have committed a crime, so those courts are part of the criminal justice system. Mentally-ill people facing involuntary commitment have committed no crime, so their cases are heard in civil courts. But because they face a loss of liberty, they are entitled to the services of an attorney, just like a criminal defendant. In most states, they are entitled to the services of a Public Defender or appointed counsel if they cannot afford to hire an attorney. Some state Public Defender offices have special divisions dedicated to this task, such as the Fort Bend County Mental Health Public Defender’s Office in Texas, and the New Jersey Public Defender Office’s Division of Mental Health Advocacy. Note that in New Jersey, the court can order a temporary commitment with provision for a hearing within 20 days, which includes assignment of counsel for unrepresented patients (NJ Superior Court Rule 4:74-7).

To discover which court in your state handles mental illness commitments, go to CourtReference and select your state; there is a chart on the main state page that shows which case types are handled by which courts.

 

→ No CommentsTags: Courtreference.com · Free Legal Help · Kansas · Maryland · Michigan · Mississippi · New Jersey · Texas