If you’re lucky, you’ve not had much contact with the court system in California or anywhere else. Most of us only encounter the judicial system due to minor traffic offenses, divorces, and the passing of those close to us. California’s court system is very large. It can be difficult to understand how this system is organized and who to contact with different issues or questions.
If you are involved in a civil legal matter, such as a family law proceeding or a probate matter, you probably already know who to contact when you have questions or need copies of documents. In these cases, check the paperwork provided to you. It probably makes contact information easy to find. For example, if you need a copy of your divorce decree or a traffic ticket, you would contact the clerk of the court in which that matter was filed or is pending.
But what do you do if you want a copy of an official case record and you are not a party to the action? Do citizens have the right to see copies of official case records, such as pleadings or judgments? In most cases, the answer is “yes.” Records in court cases are considered public records, which anyone can access. There are exceptions to this general rule for some types of proceedings and for certain records that are sealed by the court for privacy or confidentiality reasons.
To obtain non-confidential case records, you’ll need to identify where the case is pending or was filed. Many types of case records are available online. For example, San Francisco County allows you to look up civil, family, probate, and small claims cases online.
Citizens also have the right to get copies of judicial administrative records. These records include those that relate to the business of courts, such as judicial budgets, policies, and public contracts. Records from the Judicial Council of California or from California appellate courts may be requested by submitting a Request for Judicial Administrative Records. To obtain copies of judicial administrative records at the superior court level, you should contact the clerk of that court directly.