civil court lawsuits
Lawsuits are filed in civil courts, and the documents filed in the lawsuits are presumed to be open to the public.
Civil court lawsuits include many different types of filings including divorce cases (often called "dissolution of marriage" or "family law" cases) and probate actions to settle a deceased person's estate.
There also are several different types of civil courts - small claims courts, county superior courts, federal courts and appeals courts.
Each civil court will have an alphabetical name index to search for lawsuits filed against a person or company, or lawsuits filed by a person or company, in that court. Courts also post calendars listing cases coming up before judges in different courtrooms.
Many courts, especially superior and appeals courts, are putting their indexes online. In some cases the courts are even posting electronic copies of court documents filed in the cases that you can view at the website for the court.
Reporters' Use of Lawsuits in Stories
Here's a story in which reporters used a lawsuit to verify information in an anonymous e-mail tip that an Oakland City Council member had financial troubles and had to pay off a court judgment:
Councilwoman Faces Probes of Alleged Kickback (scroll down to the 12th paragraph for the description of the e-mail tip and the civil lawsuit)
Here's a story disclosing that a company that had claimed to be a minority business to get government contracts actually was financed and managed by a white-owned company. The story was based on a lawsuit the white-owned company filed against its minority partner because of a financial dispute:
FBI probe focuses on minority builder (scroll down to the 6th paragraph for the description of the civil lawsuit)
Filed under: Public Records