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Session 5: Courts

How do you get the inside scoop on a court case, whether it’s a juicy lawsuit or the criminal trial of the century? You’ll need to know:

  • The type of case: civil, criminal, housing, etc.
  • The jurisdiction: state, federal or local

Nexis, Factiva or Google News can help you determine these things.

The Civil Court of the City of New York handles:

  • claims for damages up to $25,000
  • small claims for cases involving amounts up to $5,000
  • landlord-tenant matters

The Criminal Court of the City of New York handles:

  • misdemeanors (crimes punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to one year) and  lesser offenses
  • arraignments (initial court appearances following arrest) and preliminary hearings for felonies (crimes punishable by imprisonment of more than one year)

The Supreme Court of New York generally hears cases such as civil matters involving higher dollar amounts; divorce, separation and annulment proceedings; and criminal prosecutions of felonies.

How to find cases and filings in New York State 

eCourts has civil and criminal case docket information, and, in some cases, filings.

Webcrims, part of eCourts, has information about pending criminal cases. Let’s see what we can find on Sean Shaynak, the disgraced former Brooklyn Tech teacher.

SCROLL has filings for some New York County Supreme Court cases — for example, the suit filed by an Upper East Side family to keep their pet collie, Olivia (the docket is here).

The Bronx County Clerks website also offers some filings (sign in as a guest), and LexisNexis Academic has selected cases.

How to find federal cases

You can access PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) at the J-School Research Center. PACER will show you the parties involved, a chronology of events, written opinions, etc. It’s fee-based but cheap: 10 cents a page, with a $3 cap per document. As an example, let’s look at Robin Thicke’s lawsuit against the estate of Marvin Gaye; here are the complaint and the docket.

How to get documents that aren’t online

Attorney contact databases

Some other key resources

And here’s a link to today’s drill.

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