Every court has specific rules that must be followed by all parties. Lawyers who regularly practice in a given court are very familiar with the rules of that court. They often know the rules so well that they don’t have to look them up. But you have to look them up. Even if you are representing yourself in court – known as appearing pro se (Latin for “for oneself”) – you will be expected to follow those rules. That means you’ll first have to find them. Fortunately, most court rules can be found online.
State court systems have statewide rules applicable to all courts, especially general rules of procedure and rules of evidence. Individual courts at the district, county, and municipal level may also have their own local rules that supplement the statewide rules.
Statewide rules can usually be found on the state judiciary’s website, and in many cases that website will also have local rules. For example, the Kansas Judicial Branch publishes both its statewide District Court rules applicable to all courts and its local District Court Rules, albeit on different pages of its website. The Ohio’s Judicial System website only includes statewide Rules of Court: Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Juvenile Procedure, Traffic Rules, and Rules of Evidence. Local rules such as the Cleveland Municipal Court Local Rules of Practice and Procedure are found on the local court’s website. Louisiana is similar to Ohio, with statewide Rules for District Courts and Juvenile Courts on its Supreme Court website, and local court rules such as Jefferson Davis Parish District Court Rules and Baton Rouge City Court Rules on local websites.
New York State’s Unified Court System website has both statewide rules and some local rules. The Uniform Rules for New York State Trial Courts include rules for all courts exercising criminal jurisdiction, civil rules for Supreme Courts and County Courts, and separate sets of rules for Family Courts, Court of Claims, Surrogate’s Courts, and New York City Civil Courts. These Uniform Rules also include civil rules for City Courts outside or New York City, for District Courts and for Justice Courts (also known as Town and Village Courts). There are even special rules for capital cases (i.e. where the death penalty may be imposed), for sealing of civil records, for jury selection, and for the conduct of depositions. Links to all of these rules are on the same page of the NY judiciary’s website.
But all those New York uniform trial court rules don’t cover every aspect of court procedure, so many of New York’s judicial districts have additional rules that apply to some of the courts in each district. A good example is the Eighth Judicial District Rules for Civil and Matrimonial Cases in Supreme Courts in all eight counties of the district. A different example may be found in the Ninth Judicial District Judges’ Part Rules, which has separate rules for different Supreme Court judges in all five counties.
Still in New York, Kings County Supreme Court Civil Term has separate sets of rules for civil cases in general, jury trials, foreclosure auctions, and still more separate rules for different judges. In contrast, Bronx County’s only local rules are Civil Filing Rules governing the filing of papers.
California’s Judicial Branch website has both statewide Rules of Court and individual county Local Rules. Statewide rules include general rules applicable to all courts as well as specific civil, criminal, family, juvenile, and probate rules. Local rules are organized alphabetically by county. California has an especially simple court system, with one Superior Court in each county. Even so, many California counties’ Superior Courts have additional sets of local rules that supplement the “local rules” published on the state Judicial Branch website. Alpine County Local Rules of Court are a good example.
For an even easier find, look at the Wyoming Judicial Branch Court Rules page: all of its rules for District, Circuit, and Municipal Courts are linked on that single web page.
As you can see, each state’s online court rules may be found in different places, or scattered among several websites. You can always look up your state court system’s main website and poke around until you find the court rules – or some of them. Better yet, go to CourtReference and select your state, then check the Self-Help and Legal Research resource category to find links to all of the online court rules in that state.
The multiple layers of statewide and local court rules covering different aspects of court procedure are complicated enough when you have easy access to them. Unfortunately, although most court rules can be found online, not all can. When representing yourself, find all the available court rules online and then ask the court clerk if there are additional rules you need to know. The court clerk is not allowed to interpret the rules, but he or she can supply a copy for you to figure out. As always, the court clerk’s contact information can be found on CourtReference – even if it’s not online anywhere else.