HOW AND WHERE TO FIND COURT INFORMATION
Generally, when we're asked to "check courts" on someone, we're looking
- Lawsuits that person has filed or has had filed against him/her, in
local (county and circuit) trial courts and federal trial courts (Pacer)
- Bankruptcies filed by that person (all bankruptcies are filed in federal
- Criminal charges or arrests (most likely in county and circuit courts,
but some crimes -- "white collar" financial crimes, racketeering, organized
crime -- are in federal courts)
Cases filed in county courts in Florida are:
- County and city ordinance violations, including traffic infractions.
- Minor offenses (misdemeanors) which provide for a maximum sentence of
one year or less in the county jail.
- Civil cases involving amounts of $15,000 or less, such as
landlord-tenant and small claims disputes.
Cases filed in circuit courts in Florida are:
Each county in Florida has a clerk of courts that oversees both the county
and circuit courts, so county and circuit court case information are usually
in the same database.
- Domestic relations cases such as dissolution of marriage (divorce),
guardianship and juvenile delinquency.
- Major criminal offenses (felonies) which can result in imprisonment in a
- Probate matters, such as the processing of wills and settling of
estates of deceased persons.
- Civil cases involving amounts greater than $15,000.
- Appeals from county court judgments, except when a state statute or
provision of the state constitution is held invalid.
Cases filed in federal trial courts (district courts) include:
- Bankruptcy, copyright, patent and Social Security cases, which are filed
exclusively in federal courts.
- Cases that involve the U.S. government as a party, that are concerned
with Constitutional or federal laws, or controversies between states or
between the U.S. and foreign governments.
- Cases between parties that are citizens of different states, or between
United States citizens and those of another country, where the potential
damages recovery exceeds $75,000. Such cases may also be filed in local
circuit courts, if they do not involve any federal law.
BACKGROUND ON THE COURT SYSTEM
A couple of documents that are useful:
The U.S. Courts & Legal System: Understand the Basics Before You
Consumer-oriented guide from FindLaw.com to statutory and case law,
the court system, which kinds of cases are filed where, etc. (You may first
get a page asking you to set your location by entering your ZIP code or
choosing a state and metro area; after you do that you'll get to the article
about the court system.)
WHERE TO FIND COURT INFORMATION
See RefWeb Law & Crime page for more links.
The Federal Judiciary
Description of and links to federal courts, including PACER courts.
PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records)
Direct access to federal district and bankruptcy courts, less expensive than
CourtLink and as up-to-date and comprehensive as you can get.
Individual local court clerk web sites
Check The Sourcebook To Public Record Information (ready reference
shelf) for availability of court information and web addresses, or http://www.searchsystems.net), or
search Google for court name.
Don't forget that not all courts are online! We can request manual searches
through The Official Provider's Source (TOPS) at http://www.crimesearch.com or, in some
cases, call the court directly (check The Sourcebook to Public Record
Information for phone numbers and availability of information.
Includes selected local civil courts in a few states (including Florida and
New York) in the DOCKET library.
State (local) and federal courts on LexisNexis CourtLink. Use as a last
resort for local courts that don't have their own web sites and aren't
available on Lexis (some local civil courts are available on Lexis). Don't
use for federal courts, which are available on PACER, which is less
expensive and as up-to-date and comprehensive as you can get.
Compiled by Michelle Quigley
7 January 2003
THE PALM BEACH POST