Court Basics FAQs

Court Basics - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I get forms for use in my case?

A: In the areas of this website where we give you information on specific legal issues like divorce, evictions, etc., we also give you a list of forms with links for those types of cases.  You can also go to Browse All Forms and in the drop-down menu, select the type of form you are looking for and then click on the "See Forms" button. You will get a list of forms that apply to that issue.  If you have a family law case, click for a guide to find and fill out family law forms online.

Q: How do I file papers in court?

A: Read the section on Filing Papers in Court.

Q: Where can I get information on serving papers?

A: Get more information on serving papers on our Service of Process page.

Q: If I have a disability, how can I be assured that I will be accommodated in court?

A: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal civil rights statute, requires all state and local governmental entities, including the courts, to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities who have an interest in court activities, programs, and services. Rule 1.100 of the California Rules of Court seeks to provide a workable and orderly framework for compliance with the ADA and state laws. You can find questions and answers about rule 1.100 in For Persons With Disabilities Requesting Acommodations.

Q: How can I get court records?

A: The court clerk in the county where the matter was filed has copies of the records.  Copies may be requested in person or by mail, in some courts, and online.

The quickest way to obtain a copy is to go there in person.  To locate the county courthouse, go to Find My Court and, using the list of courts, link out to the court website.  At its website, in addition to contact information, you will probably find specific instructions for obtaining copies of court documents from that particular court.

To obtain copies of documents by mail, your letter must typically include the following:

  1. The full names of the parties to the case, including first, middle, and last names, and case number, if known.
  2. The approximate year of filing.
  3. Whether you need a certified copy of the document (governmental agencies may require certified copies).
  4. Your name, address, and phone number to ensure the return of documents and to give the court a way to contact you if there are any questions about your request.
  5. A self-addressed stamped, legal-sized envelope for return of documents.
  6. A check made payable to "Superior Court of California, County of [put the name of the county].

Depending on how long ago your case happened, your request may take 3 to 6 weeks. Older court records may be stored somewhere else than at the courthouse, and requests for records stored off site sometimes take longer to process.

Q: How are trial court judges selected?

A: Superior court judges serve 6-year terms and are elected by county voters on a nonpartisan ballot at a general election. Vacancies are filled through appointment by the Governor. Once the term to which a judge is appointed runs out, the judge must run for election if he or she wishes to remain in that position. A superior court judge must have been an attorney admitted to practice law in California or have served as a judge of a court of record in this state for at least 10 years immediately preceding election or appointment.

Q: How are justices of the Court of Appeal selected?

A: Each district (or division, in the case of the First, Second, and Fourth Appellate Districts) has a presiding justice and 2 or more associate justices. Appellate justices are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The same rules that govern the selection of Supreme Court justices apply to those serving on the Courts of Appeal.

Q: How are justices of the Supreme Court selected?

A: One Chief Justice and 6 associate justices are appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, and confirmed by the public at the next general election. A justice also comes before the voters at the end of his or her 12-year term. To be eligible for appointment, a person must have been a member of the State Bar of California or a judge of a court in this state for at least 10 years.

Q: Where can I find biographical information about California's Supreme Court justices?

A: Information about the Supreme Court's 7 sitting justices appears online on the Supreme Court page.

Q: Where can I find biographical information about California's Court of Appeal justices?

A: Information about the justices appears on the Court of Appeal websites. Click on the Court of Appeal district for which you want the information. For example, information about the justices of the Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District (Fresno) can be found here.

Q: How can I locate a particular California trial court judge?

A: Visit our Judges Roster page.

Q: What is the California Judicial Council?

A: The Judicial Council is the governing body of the California courts. It is chaired by the California Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The California Constitution directs the Judicial Council to provide policy guidelines to the courts, make recommendations annually to the Governor and Legislature, and adopt and revise California Rules of Court in the areas of court administration, practice, and procedure. The council performs its constitutional and other functions with the support of its staff agency, the Administrative Office of the Courts.

New judicial members of the council and its committees are selected through a nominating procedure intended to attract applicants from throughout the legal system and to result in a membership that is diverse in experience, gender, ethnic background, and geography.

The council has 21 voting members, who include 14 judges appointed by the Chief Justice, 4 attorneys appointed by the State Bar Board of Governors, and 1 member from each house of the Legislature. The council also has about 11 advisory members, including court executives or administrators, the chair of the council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, and the president of the California Judges Association. The council performs most of its work through internal committees and advisory committees and task forces.

Q: Where can I find more information about the federal court system?

A: For more information about the federal court system, visit the Federal Court website.

Q: What guides judges' ethical conduct?

A: Judges are guided by the California Code of Judicial Ethics. Click to read the California Code of Judicial Ethics.

Q: How do I file a complaint against a judge?

A: Contact the Commission on Judicial Performance, an independent state agency that handles complaints about California's judicial officers for judicial misconduct or wrongdoing. The complaint process is not intended to deal with complaints related to the merits of a case or a court's decision. The Commission on Judicial Performance is located at 455 Golden Gate Ave., Suite 14400, San Francisco, CA 94102; phone them at 415-557-1200.

Q: How do I file a complaint against a court commissioner or referee?

A: First, complain to the presiding judge of the court in which your case was heard. If you then want the Commission on Judicial Performance to review the local court’s disposition of your complaint, you must file a request with the commission within 30 days of the court’s disposition. Send the commission both your letter of complaint and the disposition letter the court sent you. If the commission determines that the judge abused his or her authority in the disposition of your complaint, the commission will take action. The Commission on Judicial Performance is located at 455 Golden Gate Ave., Suite 14400, San Francisco, CA 94102; phone them at 415-557-1200.

Q: Where can I find a court's local rules?
Q: Where can I find the court calendar for this year, with court holidays?

A: For a list of court holidays, go to our Court Holidays page.

Also, keep in mind that due to the state budget crisis, some courts have furlough days when the court will be closed to the public. So check your court's website as well to find out whether your local court will be closed on any additional dates.  Find your superior court’s website.

Q: What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?

A: An interpreter is different from a translator because while interpreters translate what is being said, translators translate written materials. Some interpreters are translators and some translators are interpreters. But just because someone is a translator does not mean they can interpret, especially not in court, where the legal language is very specialized and can be complicated and confusing to someone who does not know it well. However, court interpreters may have to orally translate written documents (like court exhibits) as part of an interpreting assignment during a court proceeding.

Q: How can I become a court interpreter?

A: You can find out about becoming a court interpreter, as well as requirements, examination information, and other resources for court interpreters by going to our Court Interpreters page.

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