Access to Electronic Court Records

Courts may keep official records about cases in paper or electronic format. There are three ways to look at court records:
  • Go to the courthouse and ask to look at paper records.
  • Go to the courthouse and look at electronic court records.
  • If your court offers it, look at electronic records over the internet. This is called “remote access.”

This page is about electronic records and tells you:

  • WHAT is an electronic court record,
  • WHO can look at an electronic court record, and
  • HOW to look at an electronic court record.

If your court does not keep electronic records, you will need to go to the courthouse in person to look at paper records.

What is an electronic court record?

When someone files a case in court, the court will keep an official record about the case.  Information about you may be contained in a court record. For example, if you file a lawsuit claiming another person owes you money, your name and how much money you are asking for will become part of the court record.

A court may keep a record in paper or electronic format. A record kept in electronic format is known as an electronic record.  An electronic record can only be viewed on an electronic device such as a computer, tablet, or cell phone.

Who can look at electronic court records?

The public is allowed to look at court records for most cases. However, there are some court records the public is not allowed to see. This happens when a law or court order makes a record confidential.

Examples of confidential cases include “juvenile dependency” (when a child is removed from their parents) and “juvenile delinquency” (when a child is accused of committing a crime). Court records for these cases are not available to the public.

In other cases, there are certain documents in the case file that are not available to the public. An example of these is a fee waiver application. The public may be able to see part of the court record but would not be able to see this document.

Even when the public is not allowed to look at a court record, there will still be certain people who are allowed. For example, if you are a party in a case, you can look at the court record even if the public cannot.

How can I look at an electronic court record?

There are two ways to look at electronic court records:

  • On a computer at the courthouse.
  • On a computer, tablet, or smart phone anywhere with an internet connection, such as your home, or the public library. This is known as “remote access.”

How you can access an electronic record depends on your relationship to the case.  If you are a party, you have full remote access.  If you are a member of the public, there may be limits on what you can see through remote access.

Remote Access by the Public

If it can, a court that keeps electronic records must allow the public to see them at the courthouse or through remote access. But there are several exceptions to remote access in sensitive cases such as divorce, child custody, civil harassment, and criminal.  These exceptions strike a balance between the public’s right to know about the court’s business and individual privacy.

For example, if you saw a news story about a criminal trial and wanted to look at the court’s electronic record about the case to find out more, you would need to visit the courthouse and see the electronic record there. In some special situations where there is an unusually high level of public interest in a criminal case, a judge may allow remote access to a criminal electronic record. But this is not typical. Normally, you would need to visit the courthouse.

As another example, if you and your spouse were getting a divorce, information about you and your marriage could be in an electronic record. But the public could not look at the electronic record using remote access.  Members of the public who wanted to see the electronic record would have to visit the courthouse.

You can see a complete list of case types where the public can only see electronic records at the courthouse. View rule 2.503 of the California Rules of Court.

Keep in mind, all or part of a court record may also be confidential by law or court order. In that case, no one from the public would be able to view the electronic record at the courthouse or through remote access.

Remote Access by Parties and Other People Related to the Case

Certain people, such as a party or a party’s attorney can always use remote access, if available, to look at the full electronic court record.

The sections below will give you more information about the people who can have full remote access to electronic records. The sections below only apply if the court is able to provide remote access. Not every court may be able to provide remote access. Even courts that are able to provide it may not yet be able to provide it to everyone listed below.

  • Party — If you are a party, you can use remote access to look at electronic records of your case. The other party in your case can also look at the electronic records.
     
  • Person Authorized by a Party — If you are a party, you need another person’s help, and you want that person to use remote access to look at electronic records of your case, you can authorize that person to do so. This does not apply to electronic records of criminal, juvenile justice, or child welfare cases. It also does not apply to confidential electronic records. Even if you are a party in those kinds of cases, you cannot authorize just anyone to look at the electronic record. But, if you have an attorney, your attorney can still see the electronic record.
     
  • Party’s Attorney — If you are a party and you have an attorney, your attorney may use remote access to look at the electronic records in your case.  If your attorney works in an organization such as a law firm or public defender’s office, other people working in the organization may also use remote access to view the electronic records. This is only if they are assisting your attorney with your case. Paralegals, legal secretaries, interns, and other attorneys are all example of people who may be assisting your attorney with your case.
     
  • Court-appointed People — Sometimes the court will appoint people to participate in a case who are not a party’s attorney. For example, a child’s interests can be impacted by a case where the child is not a party. If so, the court may appoint someone to look out for the child’s interests. As another example, the court may appoint an investigator to find information. In situations where the court has appointed a person to participate in a case, that person is allowed to use remote access to view electronic records to fulfill the responsibilities the court assigned.
     
  • Legal Aid Staff — Sometimes legal aid organizations have lawyers represent parties before a court.  When that happens, the legal aid lawyer, just like any lawyer representing a party, is allowed to use remote access to look at the electronic records in the party’s case. Often though, legal aid organizations may provide more limited scope services like a brief consultation, help understanding the procedures in a case, and help with forms and documents. If you go to legal aid for help with your case, the legal aid staff may be authorized to use remote access to look at the electronic records in your case with your consent.
     
  • Government Staff — State and local government agencies often need staff to view court records in the performance of government functions. Staff from these agencies may be authorized to view records using remote access.  For example, a city police department or county probation department may need to look at electronic records in criminal matters. You can see a list of state and local government agencies and the types of electronic records their staff may see using remote access. View rule 2.540 of the California Rules of Court.