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How do California Courts work?

The Supreme Court acts as the highest level of authority in the state, and can review and overrule decisions made by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal mainly hears reviews of a superior court decision. The majority of cases within the state of California start in one of 58 superior or trial courts (one for each of the 58 counties.) There are six Courts of Appeal across California, but just the one Supreme Court. There are 7 justices on the Supreme Court, 105 justices in the Courts of Appeal, and approximately 2,175 judges, commissioners, referees, assigned judges, and temporary judges in the trial courts.

Civil Court and Small Claims

There are a number of differences in how small claims and civil cases operate in California. Civil cases refer to those in which the petitioner is looking for more than $250,000, and can also include non-monetary disputes over things such as property, name changes, and restraining orders. On the other hand, small claims court covers filings in which the petitioner is looking for less than $10,000, without legal representation. In California, around 65,000 of these cases are filed each year. Small claims can included a friend refusing to pay back a loan, issues with returning deposits, warranty agreements for broken goods, and much more. The small claims court can also demand that the defendant does something, like pay an amount owed, or perform community service.

Appeals and court limits

In terms of appeals, only the party who was sued in small claims court can appeal the decision. In civil cases, either party can choose to appeal. Defendants and complainants cannot have their lawyer file papers or accompany them in court for small claims, unless they have appealed. In civil cases, lawyers may file papers on their behalf and join them in court. Filing fees for small claims are between $30 and $100 per claim, while civil claims are between $180 and $320. Pretrial discovery is allowed in civil cases, but not in small claims. Small claims cases must be completed within 30-70 days of the complaint, whereas civil cases allow 120 days.

Why are court records public?

Back in 1968, the California Public Records Act was passed by state legislature and signed by the then-governor Ronald Regan. The act was put in place to ensure that court and public records would be available and open to the public, without an individual having to disclose why they are requesting said records. This is similar, but not exactly the same as the Freedom of Information Act.

Records can be obtained offline via the following address:

Federal Records Center
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno, CA 94066-2350
Phone: (650) 238-3500
Fax: (650) 238-3507 


California Court Structure
California State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (213) 279-5287

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Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.


Mariposa County Superior Court was initially finished in 1854.

  • There are 3 types of courts in California. They are the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeals, and the Superior Courts.
  • The California Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. The 7 judges in the court serve for 12 years each.
  • The first California Supreme Court Chief Justice was Serranus Clinton Hastings, who served from 1850 to 1852.
  • The California Courts of Appeals is the second highest court in the state. There are 105 judges serving California’s six geographical districts.
  • There are 58 superior courts in California; one for each of the state’s 58 counties.