How can you find court records in California?

By Daniel Amos

Britney Spears has been in the news recently in a high-profile court case in Los Angeles involving her conservatorship. The information we receive about this court case comes from various media sources. But what if you wanted to see the actual court records to find out what that case is really about, how could you do that?

There are many high-profile court cases filed in California, including recent cases involving the tragic Kobe Bryant helicopter crash and Kim Kardashian's divorce from her rapper husband, Kanye West, and there are ways to learn more about these high-profile cases right from the court records.

In this blog post, I am going to show you how you can find the official court files, pleadings, motions, declarations, and any other court records contained in the Los Angeles Superior Courts which are legally available to the public. You'll learn how you can access the actual court records right from your home computer. This information can be useful to help you find court records in almost any California state court case.

Why are court records important?

Having this kind of court information can be very useful in both your business and in your personal life. Here are just a few examples of how court records might be useful:

  • To determine if a lawyer you are thinking of hiring has ever been sued before, and if so, why. Court records may be the most accurate form of customer review you’ll ever find.
  • To see what documents have been filed in your personal injury case by your lawyer and the lawyers representing the other parties in your case.
  • To find out if your prospective business partner has been sued before. This information might save you a world of heartache and a ton of money and it can help you figure out in advance if you want to go into business with them.
  • To discover the legal background of someone you are considering hiring. If they have a checkered legal background, get their consent to check because that information is probably not listed on their resume. Be sure to consult an employment lawyer about how to do a proper background check.
  • For insight into someone you are seriously dating. It’s always better to know the full truth about someone before getting involved!
  • To find out if a toy or appliance or other product you are thinking about purchasing has been the subject of litigation because of a defective product.

How can I access court records online?

The process to access court case information is what I have always referred to as a civil index search but which is also referred to as electronic access to court-related information. This valuable research tool has helped me help a lot of clients, and it’s something you can also do to help yourself.

What records are available?

This online research tool will allow you to access California state courts to find both civil and criminal court case information.

When you do an online court records search (civil index search) you can see many of the actual records, documents, and exhibits that are filed in the courthouse. This includes things like the pleadings (complaints, answers, motions, etc.) and declarations (statements about what happened), and sanctions and judgments that have been entered by the court.

Many years ago some courts began scanning records and now most courts require lawyers to submit their documents electronically so many more records are becoming available.

Our courts are filled with interesting and important information about companies, businesses, people, and the government. This is often how the media and news organizations obtain much of their information.

This is one example of what a legal pleading looks like:

The example I am going to use to show you how this process works is from the Los Angeles Superior Court Access to Electronic Court Records.

You can find a similar court records search system in your own town by simply doing an internet search for “civil index search” or “electronic court records” in your town. Most courts have an online case search system that you can access from your computer at home and which will provide you with the information you need.

Keep in mind that not all records filed in court are available for viewing by the public. Some records might be confidential by law or court order and not available. There are also some exceptions to online access of court records in sensitive cases such as divorce, child custody, civil harassment, and criminal cases. In these cases, the courts try to strike a balance between the public’s right to know about the court’s business and individual privacy.

Step-by-Step instructions on how to access the court records

I am going to use Britney Spears as my example to show you how to do a civil index search because she has been in our Los Angeles Superior Court more than most people. You might remember Britney Spears from her music and videos from “Baby One More Times” and “Oops!...I Did it Again” and many more hit songs.

The first thing to do is get out your computer. The information we are looking for is on the main website for the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Click on that link and you'll go to the main page of the LASC. It looks like this:

If you hover your cursor over the “Online Services” section in the top left, you’ll see a dropdown menu with a section entitled “Civil” and under that, you will see a list of choices, and you should click on the section entitled “Case Document Images”.

When you click on "Case Document Images" you will see this login page:

On this login page you can set up a new account or you can sign in as a “guest”. Login as a Returning Customer or as a Guest and then click “Login” and you will be directed to the Case Document Images page:

On this page, you will see the paragraph titled: “Case Number Requirement” and in that paragraph, there is a blue hyperlink that says “search for case number by name”. Click on that link. It might take you back to the login, and if it does, just log in again and then you will eventually get to the next page entitled, “Search for Case Number by Name”.

You need this “Search for Case Number by Name” page because you are looking for cases about a person or a company, and this page is where you will put in the name of whoever you are looking for. You won't have the 'Case Number' but by using the search for case number by name you will be able to search for Britney Spears, or whoever or whatever you are searching for.

In our example, we are going to search for court documents related to Britney Spears, so I will put in:

Last Name: Spears First Name: Britney

Then click on Search in the lower left.

You will be directed to a Search for Case Number by Name - Confirmation page that looks like this:

On this page, you’ll put in your credit card verification code and the password you made up for your L.A. Superior Court account that you used on the Login page.

That will then take you to a list of the documents which looks like this:

This page has a list of documents that you can click on and view.

Be sure the person you are looking for is the one listed because the search will pull up every person using the name you used. Many people and companies have the same or similar names, so be sure the one you are looking for is the one in the court records. This page also shows you which courthouse in Los Angeles the document was filed in (location).

A search like this is only going to find records filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Britney Spears lives in Los Angeles and this case was therefore filed in Los Angeles. This is why we were able to find court records on her in this court system. If we searched for cases filed by or against Britney Spears in a city she had never been in, we probably wouldn’t find any records on her in their court system. Or if she was involved in a car accident in New York, any records about that case would more likely be filed in the New York courts.

You will also notice on this page the far-right column is entitled “Available Imaged Documents”. This column shows the cases where the court has scanned some of the case documents which you can immediately access on your computer. Some of the columns do not have a number in them which indicates the court did not scan the filings in that case, but you can go to the courthouse to see them in the actual case file.

I hope you found this information interesting. It’s something that is available to the public but very few people know about it. I have used it for years in my legal practice to look up cases filed against a person or company that my client had a case against. If I found a case, I would look up the complaint and answer to see the names of the lawyers and experts involved in the case so I could obtain information from them for use in my client's case.

If you need a referral to a great personal injury lawyer, send me a message and I will get right back to you.

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Thanks for reading!

Daniel AmosAttorney since 1985Founder of Higher Legal