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.
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
- Contact the parties’ attorneys.
- Go to the court and get the documents from the clerk.
- Outside of NYC, go to the local county sheriff’s website – they may have a record of arrests, mugshots, etc.
- Call the county district attorney/prosecutor’s public information/communications/media relations office, or check the website for details
- TMZ and The Smoking Gun sometimes post documents related to famous people.
- US Attorney press offices: Southern District or Eastern District of NY
Attorney contact databases
Some other key resources
- Cops & Crime Research Guide (CUNY J-School Research Center)
- Courts Research (CUNY J-School Research Center)
And here’s a link to today’s drill.