Consumers can access update case information from many California Superior Courts for free or low cost. This guide explains which counties offer that convenience.
Cal Judicial Council's List for All Court Web Sites and Phone Numbers
The first link in the resources below is to the California Judicial Council list of all the Superior Court web sites and phone numbers. This is a general starting point for anyone who needs a quick link for the State Superior Courts. This legal guide reviews online case access that is free or almost free to the general public. Some Superior Courts are web friendly for accessing case information. For the others, you will need to call the clerk or visit your local courthouse for learning details about any civil or small claims cases.
Southern Cal. Counties: Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Ventura (note on Riverside)
In the Southern counties, the above-named courts all provide FREE searches by party name and online access to any civil case summary, also known as the register of actions or docket report. These are great resources and allow you to read the status of most civil cases, and the parties and attorneys of record. Some counties, such as Riverside, even permit you to obtain PDF copies of certain documents for a nominal fee, which can be a time-saver. Riverside requires you to know the case number to avoid paying a small charge to search by party name.
Northern Cal Counties: Butte, Contra Costa, Marin, Nevada, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Siskiyou
In the Northern counties, the above-named courts all provide FREE searches by party name and online access to any civil case summary, also known as the register of actions or docket report. These are great resources and allow you to read the status of most civil cases, and the parties and attorneys of record. Some counties, such as San Mateo, even permit you to obtain PDF copies of certain documents for FREE, which is incredibly convenient for litigants and attorneys. If you have the case number, for FREE you can access the entire register of actions and view all filings in the County of Alameda, but only if you know the complete case number.
Los Angeles County Superior Court
Los Angeles has FREE online access to the "case summary" (the register of actions), but only if you have a case number. It also is easier to find your case if you include the courthouse, but that is not necessary, if you don't mind wading through a short list to find the case you want. If you don't know the case number and want to do a name search, you need to register your credit card and approve a nominal fee to search. The same registration process also gives you access to PDF copies of certain filed documents. This is so much easier than going to the courthouse to view a file. The one downside to cases filed in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse: it may take several days or even weeks for an entry to appear online for a given case.
Central Cal. Counties: Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin
In the counties of the Central Valley, the above-named courts all provide FREE searches by party name and online access to any civil case summary, also known as the register of actions or docket report. These are great resources and allow you to read the status of most civil cases, and the parties and attorneys of record.
Search your own name regularly to check for any cases filed agianst you or the case status
Every day, lawyers, debt collectors and others file false proofs of service stating that a defendant or other person in a case was served with papers. If the person does not know about the case, they cannot defend themselves or hire a lawyer to protect their rights and defenses. Knowing of a lawsuit against you or checking on the case status at a given moment can save you thousands of dollars and much frustration. If you have any unpaid debts, you should check your county court's records every month or so, just to find out if a collection lawsuit has been filed against you and its status. If so, contact me for assistance and read my legal guide on negotiating collection cases.
Search companies you may want to use, such as auto mechanics, doctors, plumbers, dentists, whomever
Before you let a plumber into your home or take your car to for a tuneup or an overhaul, check the BBB online and see if there were any lawsuits in your county by or against the company or professional. The counties with case information, noted above, also permit you some idea of how each case proceeded, which may help you decide if you want to use them for your needs. Also, check to see if they are currently licensed with the State agency that licenses such professionals or the State Contractors' License Board. Protect yourself and try to use only licensed individuals who are not being sued for shoddy work or false promises.
Search your neighbors, your boss, and others who give you concern
Get used to a loss of privacy in the Information Age. However, please don't let that prevent you from knowing if you have neighbors who are frequently in court for whatever reason. Why pay a fee to some online database, if you can get good, public information for free? If there is a court record, read it just so you know enough about your friends, boss, and neighbors to determine if you want to associate much with them. If you find that they have many small claims cases that they filed, perhaps you should stay away and not confront them about anything.
Exception for Unlawful Detainer (Eviction) Cases and Other Exclusions
Due to privacy concerns, information on unlawful detainer actions is severely restricted to the parties and their attorneys during the first 60 days of the complaint being filed. See Code of Civil Procedure, Section 1161.2. A party or counsel must go to the courthouse and show the clerk proof of status on the case, to have access to the case information and file during that period. After that, the records are usually made available online and at the courthouse, as are other civil cases within that county.Rule 2.503 of the California Rules of Court permits Superior Courts to restrict access to many other cases, such as Family Law cases, mental health proceedings, and records of civil harassment.