Court Records Blog

Court Records Access

Court Records Blog header image 1

A New Type of Court Record

January 28th, 2015 · No Comments

CourtReference loves court records. Each of our state guides has links to many different kinds of court-related resources, but the most popular are the links to online court records. If your court doesn’t have records online – or if you need to see the original hardcopy – each CourtReference state guide provides contact information for every trial court in the state, so you can locate the court and arrange to see the records.

We like to talk about court records on this blog too; we’ve covered the things you need to know about court records here, the many new court record resources being added here and here, technology and access issues here, tips for name searches here, and misconceptions about court records (including which are free and which are not) here.

We like court records so much that we’re always on the lookout for new ones, and more and more courts are putting their records online. We like to see new types of records too. Brief reports of procedural events are fine, but images of actual court documents are even better.

How about online recordings of court hearings? They have recently become available for some municipal courts in Washington State. They are provided by a private company, but they’re free to users. Here’s an example from the City of Bothell WA. Note that these audio sessions are not searchable by party name, case number, or other typical court record search options. But if you know the date of the case you’re interested in, you can listen to that day’s proceedings and it’s almost like being in the courtroom.

We have links to these on our Washington Courts Guide’s “Search Court Case Records” category page; just scroll down to King County to find links to five Municipal Courts’ audio sessions.

→ No CommentsTags: Courtreference.com · Finding Court Records · New Sites · Technology · Washington

Conciliation: A New Form of Dispute Resolution

December 29th, 2014 · No Comments

When people have a disagreement that can’t be resolved by simply discussing the problem, they may end up going to court for a resolution  - especially if the disagreement involves something as important as family issues or large sums of money. Going to court can be very expensive if you hire a lawyer, and it still costs some money (e.g., filing fees) if you don’t hire a lawyer. It’s very time consuming either way, especially if you don’t hire a lawyer.

And it’s not quick; courts are busy, many court systems are underfunded and overburdened, and it can be months or years before your case can be heard. That’s why other methods of resolving disputes have been developed. These other methods are commonly referred to as “Alternative Dispute Resolution” - “ADR” for short – and we discussed them in detail here. Mediation, arbitration, and other forms of ADR use neutral third parties to guide the adversaries to a mutually acceptable solution, faster and cheaper than a court case.

Many courts themselves require parties in certain types of cases – most frequently divorce or child custody cases – to pursue ADR before going to trial; the case then proceeds to trial only if the ADR process doesn’t produce an agreement. Another very common use of ADR is foreclosure mediation, which attempts to help homeowners stay in their homes and at the same time help lenders avoid the cost of a foreclosure action in court. We discussed foreclosure mediation here, here, and here.

ADR is usually intended to fully resolve the dispute. Joe says Fred owes him $10,000. Fred says he doesn’t owe Joe anything. An ADR session may suggest that Fred really owes $5,000, and Fred and Joe agree on that figure. End of story, unless Fred or Joe doesn’t like that suggestion and insists on going to court. However, note that going to court may not be an option if a contract specifies that arbitration is the only method of resolving a dispute; in this situation, the arbitrator’s decision is final.

But many disputes can’t be boiled down to a single issue, and many court cases involve the settling of related issues before the main issue is decided. To accomplish this, the parties file motions with the court, asking the court for a decision on the related issue. The other party may file a motion in opposition, asking for a different decision.

For example, after a civil case is filed, the next step is usually “discovery” in which each side asks the other side to provide documents or sworn testimony about the facts in dispute. One side may file a motion to avoid discussing certain things or turning over certain documents. The other side then files a motion asking the court to compel the discovery. Some motions are filed after the main issues is resolved, such as a motion to modify child support or visitation, filed after the original divorce decree. Motions are normally resolved by the judge in a separate hearing; in cases with a lot of motions, there are a lot of separate hearings that must be scheduled and attended. This can go on for a long time, and the judge’s decision on each motion may be preceded by long presentations, explanations, and arguments from each side.

The Fairfax Law Foundation, a non-profit charitable corporation set up by the Fairfax Bar Association, provides education about the law to the public, community outreach, and free legal services to indigent parties in Virginia’s City of Fairfax and Fairfax County. To help relieve court congestion and delays, and to help parties in court cases resolve related issues faster, the Foundation instituted a unique Conciliation Program to resolve motions and petitions.

The program’s Conciliators are trained, experienced volunteer lawyers. At the request of one or both parties, they help the parties resolve the dispute over the motion outside the courtroom. Scheduling and meeting places are more flexible than in the court system itself; some sessions can be done by telephone or fax. If the parties don’t agree in advance, Conciliators are even available on the day the motion is to be heard. If an agreement is reached, the parties may withdraw their motion, or advise the judge that they have come to an agreement so that the motion can be decided without a protracted argument.

Information about the Fairfax Bar Foundation’s Conciliation Program and many other ADR programs may be found online. The easiest way to find ADR program websites in your area is to check CourtReference’s “Self-Help and Legal Research” category for your court or county.

 

→ No CommentsTags: Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Free Legal Help · New Sites · Virginia

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