This is a practical tutorial on getting court records, written by a participant on the SPARC site.
Written in a somewhat informal style, this is a thoroughly practical, down-to-earth guide to obtaining court documents and records. If you follow the suggestions and techniques detailed here you should have no problem getting what you need.
4 working pens, 2 black and 2 red
Business-style notebook or legal pad
Post-it notes (small and large sizes)
money for copies
briefcase, if you’ve got one
manila file folders
Head down to the courthouse and walk right in like you do this every day. Whenever possible, dress professionally. If you go in your "comfy casuals", they will treat you as such. If you go in looking "professional" they will again treat you as such. I have gone in my Sunday best and gotten the "red carpet" treatment, but when I show up in my sweats after playing with my son all day, they look at me like I am the white trash I am fighting in court.
Appearance is everything! Shave, wear nice cologne, take a briefcase if you have one, a fancy notebook (as long as it isnt a back to school special it is fine), and hold your head high. I would advise going in on the premise of "I am new to this". Make casual conversation (smile and be genuine) with the secretaries etc, and be all around pleasant. DO NOT make a stink as to who you are looking for and why, or they will be reluctant to help. It also helps to look up a few other names as well; this looks more business-like and less like "I'm hunting for my ex's criminal records!" Did I say not to mention she's your ex unless absolutely necessary? I thought so!
Ok, walk in the courthouse and ask the guard where to find the information desk. Go there and ask the following questions:
How are your court records and files stored for public access?
Where are the criminal/traffic computers?
Where would I find the Juvenile Records?
Where are the Civil Record computers?
How much does it cost to copy records?
If someone gives you ANY trouble, remind them EVER so politely that you are merely trying to access public records, and that you are aware that they are available to the public...so hand them over! Don't go into details, it is none of their business. When you get to the first set of computers you can do one of three things. You can:
Plunk around on the computer and hope you can make it work,
Ask a lawyer nearby to help you, or
get a secretary to assist you.
Personally, I would try all three, you never know who will help you the most, and who or what will give you the most information. Once you get them to work and figure out how to use them, put in her name and see what you get. Write down EVERYTHING in the notebook you brought. Use your red pen for information that needs immediate attention, like a warrant, or summons, or upcoming court date you will now be attending. Try to keep it organized, like date on the left, case number, charge, plea, conviction/determination, sentencing date, and punishment. Also ask the secretaries if it is possible to print out the page itself. Offer to pay a copy fee, that always helps. But write it in your notebook regardless. That way it is all in the same order and easier to read when you are reading it in awe later.
Once you have EVERYTHING about her written down, try a new name. Maybe her maiden name, her hyphenated name, her alias, her nickname, a variation of her name...get it? Just try everything. Now you might not get anything, but this is how we found some cool stuff on our troublemaker...it was worth the look on her face when I called her by the alias she had been convicted under...! Anyway, then try her idiot boyfriend, with the same thing with the names.
For example: if his name is "Christopher J. Idiot", look up Christopher Idiot, Chris Idiot, Chris J. Idiot, CJ Idiot, Christofer Idiot. When you get all the info on everyone involved with her (yes do her parents too, as well as friends and neighbors if possible...run the gamut here you need all the info possible) and then on a separate sheet of paper write down ALL the case numbers AGAIN. But JUST the case number this time. Find the place where they keep the files and ask to see ALL of the files listed. If they have not been archived they will get them for you. If they HAVE been archived they will order them and you will have to come back (again, worth it).
Now I know they might only let you have one or two at a time, but so what, they have to let you read them. Make sure you are reading them in chronological order. When we did that, we found that the ex was convicted of cruelty to animals a few months before she was charged with child abuse...etc etc etc.
MAKE SURE THAT THE CASE YOU HAVE IS ONE THAT INVOLVES THE PERSON YOU THINK IT DOES- LOTS OF PEOPLE HAVE SAME NAMES, THE INFO IS USELESS IF IT IS ABOUT THE WRONG PERSON! Take quick notes for each case. I recommend getting a sheet of paper for each case in your notebook (you will type it all up later anyway) to keep it separate. Then get copies made. DO NOT WRITE ON THESE COPIES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! It might be expensive (50 cents a page is not uncommon), so only get 1 copy of each case, you can go to a copy shop later or stop by the office and make copies of your copies if need be. Also, if you do NOT need every piece of paper don't get it copied. Courts are notorious for putting 3 words on a sheet of paper and entering it into file, if you don't need it don't get it. This is where the post-it notes that you brought come in handy (you did bring them, right?). Put a post-it on each page you want copied, and put COPY on each post-it. This makes the secretaries' job a little easier, and remember, they are your friends, so try and keep it that way.
Once you get all of your cases that you need, head to the next set of records. Now if you are lucky they will have it all in one place, but don't count on it! Keep at it, doing the same thing each place. Make sure if they ask you to wait you say "no problem, you look busy, take your time" try to keep from rolling you eyes while you say it, but believe me, the "brown nose" method is the way to go to get what you need from these people!
Juvenile Court Records: This is where it will get tricky. You need to be VERY CAREFUL that you are understanding and compassionate- NOT "ANTI MOM"! They can demand that you have the records subpoenaed if they want to be REALLY pissy, so BE CAREFUL. Explain to the person in charge, "My name is Jane Smith, and my lawyer has asked me to retrieve records about my children/child with John Smith. I know there are Juvenile Records regarding them here, I need to look at them and possibly get copies. How do I go about doing that?"
If they give you ANY trouble, say "I thought this was all public record?" if they tell you that it is and roll their eyes, then you got it, if they say no, that Juvenile Records are sealed, then you are up against a minor setback. REGARDLESS, state that you are the child's father and that YOU WERE TOLD BY A LAWYER YOU ARE ENTITLED TO SEE THESE RECORDS...but don't yell! Be persistent, if they see you won't leave without the info you might get it, or you might get asked to leave, I don't know it depends on the courthouse policy. If there IS something on her in Juvenile Records, and they won't let you have it, you'll need your lawyer to Petition to Subpoena Court Files and you should get it, especially if it involves your ex.
Also, once you get back home, call the sheriff's office and ask them how to access the child molester registry...you might be surprised what you find out.
While you are at it, check with the Clerk of the Court, or wherever child support payments are made IN the courthouse (not the Child Support Enforcement Office they are NO help), and see if she has made all of hers. Find out (you can get a printout) how much is paid, how she pays it, how much is in arrears, etc etc. This will come in handy! MAKE SURE you find the cases that say how she lost custody of her kids if she did. If she HAS custody of any kids, MAKE SURE YOU FIND THE VISITIATON ORDERS FOR THOSE DADS. Reading those cases will help you see how she fights, and what she ends up with, and why. If she is getting child support from a dad, and you are unable to find any trace of a custody agreement, be kind enough to get his address at work, or home, and drop him a line about his rights as a father to his child as well. If you can find those dads and you are 100% positively sure they will not harm your investigation then talk to them about what problems they have been having with her. You never know what might turn up this way.
Once you get home with all this info, put it in order first, and get on the computer. You have a LOT of organizing to do. Put EVERYTHING you know into this calendar. This can be used as an affidavit (legal statement to the court) after your lawyer has edited what he thinks is appropriate. Start with the first legal record regarding ANYONE and relate it to your life with her. ACCORDING TO COURT RECORD (important phrase): Jane Sleepsaround (wife's name at that time) was arrested for Child Endangerment on March 4 1989. She pled "Not Guilty", was tried and convicted on June 10 1989. She was sentenced by Judge Wonderful to 6 months probation on August 30 1989.
ACCORDING TO JUVENILE RECORD: Her children were removed from her care and placed with their biological father Mr. Hegot Screwed on Sept 23 1989.
My wife and I were married on Jan 1 1990
ACCORDING TO MY WIFE: My wife was having an affair with Larry Idiot starting on Dec 1990
ACCORDING TO COURT RECORD: Larry Idiot was arrested for DUI on Jan 5 1991
My wife's father, Full O. Crap, was arrested on Feb 19 1991 for driving without a license
And so on and so on, you get the point, but get it in order so that you can get a good picture (and your lawyer can too) about what is going on, and how long this has been a pattern. Make sure to include the case numbers and dates. Once you have all of that done, then take it to your lawyer and let him DROOL over it (believe me, he will) and ask him how to present the info to the judge. Some of the info will not be admissible, of course, so don't feel like it is a big deal if he cuts out some stuff. But YOU will know what's going on, which puts YOU ahead of THEM!Our thanks to "KND" for taking the time to write this and share it with us.