Access public information on lawsuits by visiting the local courthouse, finding legal opinions, and looking up case law online.
Information about completed lawsuits is available online, and you can find the case number relatively easily by searching the county court's website. You can then review the file at the court clerk’s office. Be aware that some lawsuits are not included in the public records because the records are sealed or the lawsuit occurred in a small claims or justice court that does not publish the result of hearings.
Visit the Local Courthouse
Go to the local courthouse and locate the office of the clerk of court, usually called a district court, to review a local case file that is active or closed. Present the case name or number at the front desk and request the file. If it is available, the representative at the clerk’s office will bring it to you to review. You may review a file standing at the counter or find a carrel or seat within the area. Court personnel, attorneys, judges and representatives of these legal affiliations can check out a case file. A person off the street cannot remove a file from the district court.
Not all local cases are available at the district court. Traffic citations and some criminal records may require a visit to the office of the county clerk for misdemeanor charges.
Ask About Sealed Records
Inquire at the clerk’s office if you cannot locate a record. Some judges seal court records on the request of a party and the records may not be available for public review. This may include sensitive matters relating to minors or private issues. Divorce records are usually available for public viewing, but deletion of Social Security numbers from case files is common in most states.
Look Up Case Law Online
Look for a primary source for lawsuit information where you can find the published opinion, not just a review of the case. United States and state supreme court case opinions are available within a few days of handing down the decision, but appellate court decisions may be weeks in processing. Westlaw and Lexis are two sources for finding a database of case law from most courts of record, but are especially effective for locating appellate court cases. Most of the services these companies provide are not free, but are a standard source used by attorneys and law schools for legal research. Supreme Court decisions, whether state or federal, are readily available online for free at websites like National Technical Information Services.
Find Legal Opinions
Find legal opinions by state at the Cornell website for free. Appellate and Supreme Court decisions as well as state statutes and court rules are available. Some international law opinions are available at the Pace Law School website that specializes in international sales law.
- notebook and books image by Sergey Galushko from Fotolia.com