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How to Find Case Records: A Refresher

June 28th, 2015 · No Comments

Here at CourtReference, we get a lot of questions about court records. People want to know how to go about looking up a divorce record, doing a criminal background check, or looking up a will from the 1800′s.

Of course anyone can just Google “court records” to start the ball rolling. But if Google knows your location (and they do, they do!), the top search results will be for your area – and most of the rest will be for commercial websites that charge a fee to search. That’s why most of our questions are about how to find court records without paying a fee.

The answer depends on where the records are located. Many court systems have put their records online, and allow you to search them for free. Others charge a fee to search their online records, and some of those require registration and a subscription. Still others have no online records; the paper records can be searched in person at the courthouse for free, although you would have to pay copying charges if you want to take a copy home.

Some states’ online court record searches include all of the courts in a particular state; others include some but not all courts in the state (e.g. all Circuit and District court cases, but no Municipal Court cases); still others include records from only one level of the court system. In other states, records are only maintained at the county level; some counties may have all of their records online, while other counties have only some – or none at all.

To borrow a saying from another profession, it’s all about “location, location, location.” First you need to know where the records are kept, and then you need to find out if those records are available online for free, for a fee, or not at all. Note that they are always free at the courthouse, except for the cost of copies – and with some exceptions for types of court records that are restricted for their subjects’ safety, such as many juvenile records and nearly all records of protective orders.

CourtReference has a wealth of information about courts, such as dockets and calendars, opinions, self-help resources, sources of legal help, forms, and online fine payment sites. But CourtReference’s original purpose was to help people find court records. That’s why we include contact information for all trial courts in the U.S.,  so people can call or visit the courthouse to inquire about and access court records.

It’s also why we list online record searches at the top of our “Online Resources” page for each court. For example, check out our page for Berkshire County, MA to see contact information for Berkshire Superior Court, and then click the “Online Resources” link under that court to find related resources, with “Searching Case Records” links at the top of the list.

It’s also why “Search Court Case Records” is the first choice in our “Find court resources by category” menu for each state. For example, check out our California Courts Guide and then go to the “Find court resources by county” drop-down menu and select “Search Court Case Records” for links to all case record searches in CA.

Finally, the importance of location is why we have our information organized by state and then by county. Yes, finding free court records is complicated, but we help by checking every state trial court to see if it has a record search, and then linking it for you. We also help by providing tips in this very blog. Check out Court Records Basics (the best overview!), About Criminal Records and Where to Find Them, Using Court Records for Background Investigations, Jurisdiction and Court Records, and our most recent roundup of Misconceptions About Court Records Availability.

We even highlight specific state issues, such as when Virginia provides online access to its court records, or when New Hampshire decides not to (and six years later, NH still doesn’t have online court records!). CourtReference even finds paid record search services that are provided by the courts. That may not be what people are looking for, but when it’s the only option, we link to it – and we tell you that it’s a paid search. For example, nearly all record searches provided by Louisiana courts require payment; see how we note that here. Some court systems charge a fee to search their own records, because it costs them money to maintain the online system. Yes, court records are supposed to be free public records, and the paper copies at the courthouse are – but there is no requirement that public records be free online.

It’s obvious that looking up court records takes some work. That’s why paid commercial services exist. Not only do they have to maintain their online system, they have to collect the court records in the first place. If you don’t have time to search yourself, you can use a commercial service. Some of them even advertise on CourtReference. Look at any CourtReference state page – e.g. Montana – and you’ll see links labeled “Advertising” or “AdChoices” near the top of the page, at the bottom, and along the left side. Those links will take you to a commercial site that offers court record searches for a fee. If you don’t have time to do the search yourself, give them a click.

But please bear in mind that when you click one of our advertiser’s lnks, you are then doing business with that company. CourtReference can’t help you with any issues you may have with their services. We get many comments from people who click our “Contact Us” link  (it’s at the top of every CourtReference page) and ask about a service they have paid for, or are thinking about paying for. If that service is provided by a court or government agency, you need to contact the court or agency. If the service is provided by one of our advertisers, you need to contact the advertisers. We make that easy: links to them are provided, under the heading “Third-Party Services” on the right side of our “Contact Us” page.

→ No CommentsTags: California · Court Systems · · Finding Court Records · Louisiana · Massachusetts · Montana · New Hampshire · Virginia

Court Administration

May 30th, 2015 · No Comments

Every state court system has an administrative branch that manages the court system’s internal operations. It is most often named the Administrative Office of the Courts (as in Washington), but may also be called the Office of Judicial Administration (as in Kansas), Office of the State Court Administrator (as in Colorado , the Chief Court Administrator (as in Connecticut), the Division of State Court Administration (as in Indiana), the Director of State Courts (as in Wisconsin), and even the Office of the Executive Secretary (as in Virginia).

These administrative offices are usually under the direct supervision of the state Supreme Court (or whatever court is the highest level state court, such as the New York Court of Appeals). Most of the administrative office’s functions,  concerned with internal court system operations, are not of interest to the general public – but some are. Because these administrative offices oversee many court programs, they may be the best source of information about those programs.

For example, Louisiana’s Office of the Judicial Administrator oversees the state’s Protective Order Registry (which includes information about types of protective orders and procedure) and has links to the state’s Drug Court contacts and program brochure. CourtReference routinely checks state court administration websites for links of interest to the general public; when we find them, we add them to our site. You can find both of the above-mentioned Louisiana resources on our Louisiana Self-Help and Legal Research page. We don’t link to the Office of the Judicial Administrator’s home page; we only link the its included resources that are of use to those of you who are looking for information to help you navigate the court system. One exception is in Kentucky, where the Administrative Office of the Courts has so many useful links to court programs and services that we simply link to its home page (see the “Kentucky Court Administration” link on our Self Help and Legal Research page).

You can count on CourtReference to provide you with links to court information that you can use.

→ No CommentsTags: Colorado · Connecticut · Court Systems · · Indiana · Kansas · Kentucky · Louisiana · Virginia · Washington · Wisconsin

Complaints About Judges

April 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

We talk about lawyers a lot on this blog, including how to complain about your lawyer. What if you have a beef with the judge? That may seem like a stretch; sure, you can complain about the lawyer you hired, but you didn’t hire the judge. Even so, if a judge takes an action that could be considered to be unethical, misconduct, or evidence of mental or physical incapacity, there are ways to complain.

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) has adopted a Model Code of Judicial Conduct that establishes general rules for judges to follow. In a nutshell, the judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety, be impartial, and avoid conflicts of interest. The Model Code does not provide for its own enforcement; for that purpose, the ABA  has adopted Model Rules for Judicial Disciplinary Enforcement, which include the establishment of a Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Commission is empowered to receive complaints, but the mechanism for making a complaint is not addressed.

ABA Model Codes and Rules are guidelines intended to help individual states craft their own versions, and most states have adopted them at least in part. Some states have gone farther; New York’s Rules of Judicial Conduct are much more detailed than the ABA’s Model Code, although they address the same general issues. In New York, as in most states, codes and rules of judicial conduct are part of the state’s general court rules. The ABA provides a comparison of its Model Code of Judicial Conduct to each state’s version.

Since the Model Rules have no complaint mechanism, the individual states all implement their own process for making a complaint. For example, New York’s procedure permits complaints to be filed with an Administrative Judge, the Inspector General, or the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. As in most states, New York’s Commission’s operating rules are not part of the general court rules, because they apply only to the procedures of the Commission and not to judges in general.

Both New York’s Commission on Judicial Conduct and  Washington State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct provide a complaint form but also accept complaints in the form of a brief written statement. Both also provide information about the confidentiality rules that apply to complaints. Similarly, Arkansas’ Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission provides a print and online complaint form, instructions, and information pamphlet and a report of its activities.

Of interest in the 2011 Arkansas report (the most recent published) are the sheer number of complaints: 248. Of those complaints, 178 were filed by litigants, only 11 by court personnel and attorneys, and the rest from various other sources. The Commission dismissed 244 of those, and imposed admonitions, reprimand, or censure for 4 of them.  Statistics are similar in other states; very few complaints about judges are found to valid. For example, in New York – a much larger state – only 12 public disciplinary opinions were issued in 2014.

To find court rules, look in CourtReference’s “Self Help and Legal Research” category of resources for your state. To find information about complaints and disciplinary procedures for both lawyers and judges, look in our “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” category – because we like to keep our lawyer- and judge-related resources together.

→ 1 CommentTags: Arkansas · Court Systems · · New York · Washington