Are California Court Records Public?
According to the California Public Records Act, which was passed into law in 1968 by the state legislature, California court records are mostly public. However, some of these records may be restricted from public access when a law or court order makes the record confidential. Examples of confidential records include juvenile dependency records and juvenile delinquency records. Court records for these cases are not open to the general public. There are also certain cases where some documents in the case file are sealed from public access; an example is a fee waiver application.
No California court records are completely sealed from the public view. Even when a record is restricted, certain persons will still be allowed access to it. These persons may include parties to the case and other authorized persons.
How Do I Find Court Records in California?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in California is to send request applications to the courthouses where the cases were filed. A courthouse may keep official records of a case in either paper or electronic format. Requestors can access court records in any of these two ways:
- Remote access
- In-person request at the courthouse
Visit the website of the courthouse where the case was filed and via the online services portal, click on the case information or case access portal to view court records. Input the required search criteria and hit the search button. The Find Your Court search portal on the California courts website provides access to all the state courts’ websites and contact information. This enables requesters to gain remote access to electronic court records over the internet on their computers, smartphones, and tablets. This service usually attracts a nominal fee. Court records that can be accessed remotely include registers of actions (as defined in Gov. Code, § 69845), calendars, and indexes of all cases and all court records in civil cases, except the following:
- Records of Family Court proceedings, including proceedings for legal separation, dissolution, and marriage nullity; child and spousal support proceedings; child custody proceedings; and domestic violence prevention proceedings;
- Records in a civil harassment proceeding according to Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6;
- Records in a juvenile court proceeding;
- Records in a conservatorship or guardianship proceeding;
- Records in a criminal proceeding;
- Records in proceedings to settle the claims of a person with a disability or a minor;
- Records in a workplace violence prevention proceeding per Code of Civil Procedure section 527.8;
- Records in a private postsecondary school violence prevention proceeding per Code of Civil Procedure section 527.85;
- Records in an elder or dependent adult abuse prevention proceeding according to Welfare and Institutions Code section 15657.03; and
- Records in a gun violence prevention proceeding according to Penal Code sections 18100-18205.
Note that requestors that are not parties to the records demanded may not have full remote access to some electronic records. Examples include divorce records, child custody records, civil harassment records, and criminal records. However, there are special situations where there are unusually high public interests in criminal cases. In such a case, a judge may permit remote access to the criminal electronic record, although this is not typical. Usually, requestors for such records would need to visit the courthouses where the cases were held.
The following persons can remotely access restricted electronic court records:
- Parties to the case
- Persons authorized by a party. However, this does not apply to confidential electronic records and electronic records of criminal, juvenile justice, or child welfare cases. The party to the case cannot authorize just anyone to access the electronic record, but the party’s attorney will be allowed to access the electronic record.
- Parties attorneys including paralegals, legal secretaries, interns, and other attorneys who may be assisting the attorneys with the case.
- Court-appointed third parties
- Legal Aid Staff
- Government officials that need to view court records while performing their official duties. View rule 2.540 of the California Rules of Court to see a list of state and local government agencies and the types of electronic records their staff may remotely access.
In-person request at the courthouse
Requestors can access paper and electronic court records at the courthouses where the cases of interest were filed. Each local court's website provides information on how to access its records and the fees that apply. The Find Your Court search portal on the California courts website provides access to all the state courts’ websites and contact information. The following court records are available at the courthouse where the case was filed:
- Divorce records,
- Court case records (such as opinions, briefs, complaints, filings, etc.),
- Traffic tickets and other traffic violations records,
- Jury service information or assistance records,
- Probate-related records, including estates, conservatorships, and wills
- Name change records
How to Request for Judicial Administrative Records
Interested persons can request copies of judicial administrative records that the Judicial Council of California (the Council) or Superior Courts of California maintain. These records comprise budget and expenditure records, vendor contracts, nonconfidential employee records, Judicial Council program factsheets, legislative reports, and written policies and procedures. Complete the Request Form and submit it to PAJAR, preferably via email, to PAJAR@jud.ca.gov as this ensures a faster response. It can also be submitted to the Public Access to Records Project by the U.S. Mail at:
Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, California 94102
Regular requests will be attended to within ten days, but it may be extended by an additional 14 calendar days in certain situations. Generally, the information provided in response to court records requests facilitates the processing of the requests. Therefore, to avoid delays, make sure to provide specific, detailed, and accurate information, including contact information.
A request usually attracts a nominal fee for staff search, review time, duplication, and production. Additional charges will apply for commercial use requests. Requestors may be required to make payment before the records are duplicated or produced. The council or the court then reviews the request and ascertains whether the requested records can be produced or are exempt from disclosure under California Rules of Court rule 10.500. The timeframe for production will also be verified.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do California Courts Work?
The California court structure comprises three levels, with the Supreme Court at the apex, having the highest level of authority, and acting as the statewide appellate court in California. The three court levels in California include Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Superior/Trial Court. Other types of courts in California are Collaborative Justice Courts, and Tribal Courts.
Typically, most civil and criminal cases and other related cases originate at the Superior Court level, although some cases may be transferred to the intermediate appellate courts, the Court of Appeals for review. Cases from the Court of Appeals may also be moved to the ultimate appellate court in the state, the Supreme Court. The Collaborative Justice Courts serve as problem-solving courts in the state. Examples are Community Courts, DUI Courts, and Drug Courts. Finally, California Tribal Courts offer legal services and technical support to local courts on inter-jurisdictional matters over all case types. The courts help to develop programs, policies, and positions that guarantee excellent justice and service quality to the Native American communities in California.
California has one Supreme Court with seven Justices appointed; six Courts of Appeal with 106 justices appointed; and 58 Superior Courts (one for each of the state’s 58 counties) with 1754 judges in total and hundreds of authorized commissioners and referees.
What Are California Civil Court and Small Claims?
Civil Court cases are made up of three categories, depending on how much money is in dispute. The categories include:
- Limited civil case that involves $25,000 or less.
- Unlimited civil cases involving over $25,000 or other types of disputes not involving money, such as cases requesting civil restraining orders, cases to resolve title to real property, and requests to change an individual's name or child’s name. In essence, any case that is not a limited civil case under the definition Code of Civil Procedure sections 85 – 86.1 falls under the category of an unlimited civil case.
- Small claims cases involving $10,000 or less. Businesses, excluding sole proprietors, cannot sue for more than $5,000 in California small claims courts. An individual cannot sue for more than $10,000 but can file as many claims as they want for up to $2,500 each. However, individuals can only file two claims in a calendar year for claims above $2,500.
In addition, an individual can only sue a guarantor for up to $6,500; if the guarantor does not charge for the guarantee, the individual can only sue for $2,500. Any entity other than a regular individual may file a claim for up to $4,000 if the guarantor charges for its services. However, individuals can sue the Contractors' Registrar, the Contractors State License Board’s executive officer, as a guarantor for about $10,000. Examples of small claims include:
- Damage to your property by a neighbor;
- Property damage or personal injury from a car accident;
- Landlord/tenant security deposits;
- Collection of money owed;
- Disputes with contractors about repairs or home improvement jobs;
- Homeowner association disputes;
Note that collections agencies cannot sue in small claims court to collect on debts assigned to them. Civil Court and small claims cases are heard at the Superior Courts.
What Are California Appeals and Court Limits?
An appeal involves applying to a higher court to review a decision or judgment made at a lower court. California has two Appellate courts, which include the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Filing a Notice of Appeal is what begins the entire appeals process. The essence is to notify the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal, and the opposing parties involved with the case of an appellant’s intentions to have the Court of Appeals review the Superior Court’s trial for errors of law.
The time limit for filing a Notice of Appeal for limited civil cases is within 30 days after a trial court clerk delivers the appellant a copy of the judgment stamped "Filed," or a notice that the judgment has been entered in their case. Appeals for civil cases can also be filed within 90 days after the entry of the judgment. For unlimited civil cases, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 60 days after either the trial court clerk delivers the appellant a notice that the judgment has been entered in their case or with a copy of the judgment stamped "Filed," or 180 days following the entry of the judgment.
Note that no one other than a party to the trial court case and their legally appointed representative (such as a guardian or conservator) can appeal the court’s ruling. This means that a person can not appeal on behalf of a spouse, a friend, a child, or another relative. Also, before appealing, confirm that the case is qualified for appeal.
In some cases, the appellant may choose to abandon or settle the case after filing the Notice of Appeal; in this case, the appellant must fill appropriate forms and duly notify the court. If the appellant choses to continue the case, the following steps must be followed:
- Designation of the Record - This involves informing the Superior Court of the documents and oral proceedings, if any, to include in the record that will be sent to the appellate court.
- Completion of the Civil Case Information Sheet - Here, the appellants must complete a questionnaire about the case called a Civil Case Information Statement within 15 days from when the superior court clerk mails the notification of the filing of the appellant’s Notice of Appeal.
- Preparation of the appellant’s brief - This is due within 30 days from the filing of the record on appeal in the appellate division (for limited civil cases). The Superior Court clerk will then send the appellant the deadlines for serving and filing your brief. For unlimited civil cases, the appellant's opening brief is due 40 days following the time the Court of Appeals notifies the appellant that the clerk's and reporter's transcripts (or other forms of the record that the appellant is using) have been filed in the Court of Appeal. For appellants that prepare their appendix and do not request a reporter's transcript, they have a time limit of 70 days from the date the appellant filed the election to use an appendix in the superior court opening brief.
- Oral Argument - Here is a chance for the appellant to further explain the arguments stated in their brief to the appellate court.
- The Court’s Decision
What Are California Judgment Records?
California judgment records contain details about a case and the court's decision or judgment. A judgment is the adjudicated rights or sentence imposed on litigants, as determined by the presiding judge based on state laws. In most cases, this judgment is final and shows the court's decision regarding a criminal or civil suit.
Judgment records in California are public records per the California Public Records Act. Interested persons may obtain copies of these documents in person by visiting the clerk's office in the court where the case was finalized. Alternatively, a requester may obtain digital copies of these court records remotely if the courthouse maintains online repositories of court records. Either way, the requester must possess the necessary details to facilitate a search for California judgment records. These include the case number, the litigants' names, and the year of judgment. In addition, the requester must prepare to pay the applicable court fees, which cover the administrative cost of searching and making copies of the judgment record sought.
The information contained in these documents varies with case type. Still, persons who obtain California judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and judgment date. More importantly, the document will contain the specific claims of the parties involved and judgment.
California court records are typically created in chronological order, starting with a petition record in a civil suit and a complaint or indictment record in a criminal case. The litigants and court officials will create and submit various documents throughout the case. These documents eventually make up the case record. The judgment record is typically created at the end of a case.
What are California Bankruptcy Records?
California bankruptcy records provide information on bankruptcy cases filed at courts within the state. These records are accessible to the public. Interested parties can obtain copies of a record by placing a request to the clerk. Records may also be obtained using the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service. A case number, complete name, or a Social Security Number / ITIN are required to obtain the bankruptcy record.
Records of related judicial filings and proceedings, including records of California Liens, judgments, and foreclosures, may also be accessed by interested and eligible persons, provided the requestor can provide relevant information to facilitate the search.
How Do I Find My Case Number in California?
A case number is a unique number assigned to individual court cases. It is also used to determine the year the case was filed, the judicial officer to whom it is assigned, and the office where it was filed. To find a case number in California, interested persons can search by the defendant’s name and also fill out the other optional information, including filing date and date of birth, to narrow down the search. A search by name will require the last, full name, or company name of a party to the case. This search can be carried by clicking on the “online services” portal to find the “search for case number by name” on the local court’s website where the case was heard. The Find Your Court search portal on the California courts website provides access to all the state courts’ websites and contact information.
A nominal fee is usually charged per search, and this fee varies from county to county. For instance, in Los Angeles, the fee is $4.75 per search for guest users, while registered users pay a minimum of $1 per search fee for the first 10 searches and a maximum of $4.75 per search fee for additional searches up to 99. The fee per search fee slightly reduces for search number 99 and above.
Generally, searching for a court record with its case number makes it easier to access the case information and allows for a more specific search result, saving time and money.
Can You Look up Court Cases in California?
Yes, court records for certain court cases may be accessed in California. However, members of the public are not allowed to look up cases with confidential information such as cases involving persons with disability or minors. Interested persons can look up cases remotely via the online portals provided on their local court’s website or may also visit the courthouse in person to access these records. Typically, this service may attract a nominal fee, which varies from county to county.
Does California hold remote trials?
Yes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, California Courts now hold remote trials to ensure social distancing and curtail the spread of the virus. With the exception of jury selection, filing of papers relating to appeals and unlawful detainer cases, the conduct of some trials, and other specific cases, all courthouses are now partially closed. Trial hearings will be conducted remotely using the telephone or videoconference.
The parties involved in a case or their counsel will be notified of their case hearing the week before the anticipated hearing date. Civil jury trials are presently tentatively on hold. The Court will provide the parties and counsel conducting remote court trials with additional information on the case hearing procedure.
All hearings will be via remote technology involving an electronic audiovisual communication between the defendant, any witnesses, and the Court; no in-person hearings will be held at the Court. The Court where a case hearing is to be held will determine the manner of remote hearing.
What is the California Supreme Court?
The California Supreme Court is the highest court in the state, which implies that its decisions are binding on all other California courts. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in the proceedings of Mandamus, Certiorari, Prohibition, and Habeas Corpus. The Supreme Court is authorized to review decisions of the state’s Courts of Appeal and state statutes. The Court may also decide vital legal questions and ensure uniformity in the law. Regular sessions of the Supreme Court are conducted in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, although the court sometimes holds special sessions elsewhere.
California Courts of Appeals?
The Court of Appeals in California is the intermediate appellate court in the state in terms of judicial authority; it is below the Supreme Court. Most of the cases heard by the Courts of Appeals in California originate from the Superior Courts and involve reviewing decisions made in those courts. The California legislature divides the state geographically into six appellate districts, each having a Court of Appeals. However, the First, Second, and Fourth Appellate Districts of the Courts of Appeals have multiple divisions. There are 19 divisions for all six districts in the state.
California Superior Courts?
Also referred to as California trial courts of general jurisdiction, Superior Courts in California have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases. These cases are presided over by judges, with and without juries, who apply the law to the facts presented by witnesses' evidence. Superior Court rulings may be appealed to the appellate courts in the state. A Superior Court is represented in each of the state’s 58 counties. Most Superior Courts have departments dedicated to handling probate, juvenile, family, small claims, mental health, and traffic cases. These Courts also have specialty departments that are specialized in handling non-violent drug offenses and domestic violence cases. Superior Courts also hear matters where parties request special relief, such as an injunction or a declaratory order.