Navigating Court Dockets

One of the most common questions heard at the Law Library reference desk involves requests for court record information. The old reference adage was to call the Clerk of Court in a particular county or district. Now there are numerous electronic options for researching court records and Wisconsin has been leading the way by providing online access to its dockets since 1999. CCAP, the online database of Wisconsin's Circuit Court dockets, lists information about criminal and civil cases, court dates, convictions and sentences from all 72 counties. Based on statistics from the Circuit Court Access Oversight Committee, this site averages a million hits per day! The "Frequently Asked Question" section of the CCAP database explains important details about using the website effectively. Another dynamic feature of the Wisconsin site is the addition of RSS feeds to receive automatic alerts on specific cases. How accessible should court files be in the Internet era? The controversy regarding privacy and public accountability makes for a unique research experience from state to state. Listed below are reliable sources to navigate court dockets at the state and federal levels. Our colleagues at the Wisconsin State Law Library maintain an extensive list of links to court records, public records and vital records on their Legal Topics Index - Court Records page. LLRX, an outstanding law and technology website, includes federal and state court rules, forms and dockets section with links to over 1,400 sources. You can browse lists to find the resource you need or search by keyword. Virtual Chase, another excellent legal research website, has a thorough listing of civil and criminal court records categorized by state, federal or international jurisdiction. The National Center for State Courts compiles a topic guide regarding all aspects of court administration. Their resource listing on public access to court records is particularly interesting. PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is an electronic service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts, and the U.S. Party/Case Index via the Internet. service. A login and password, issued by the PACER Service Center, is required for access with minimal print charges of .08 cents per page. Feel free to stop at the Reference Desk for PACER assistance if you do not wish to register for an account. Justia, a newcomer to the Internet legal services market, also provides a database for searching federal district court cases. Coverage starts with January 2006 to present. And finally there are commercial vendors that offer comprehensive searches for public records. These databases are not included with the Law Library subscriptions, but keep them in mind. Lexis Nexis CourtLink provides electronic access to court records in over 4,000 federal, state and local courts. Likewise, Westlaw's CourtExpress searches and monitors cases in federal district, bankruptcy and appellate courts as well as some state courts. This service also markets a document retrieval component.

Submitted by Cheryl O'Connor on January 15, 2008

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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