civil court lawsuits
Files in a Judge's Chambers
At precisely the moment when reporters most need access to criminal or civil court records, they'll probably discover that the records are not in the court clerk's office.
That's because a few days before a hearing in a criminal or civil case, the public case file is usually sent to the judge who is hearing the case. The file then likely won't be returned to the court clerk's office until the day after the hearing.
So when a criminal or civil court file clerk tells you a case file is in a judge's chambers (in superior court they'll often refer to the "department" that represents the judge's courtroom), you'll need to go to the judge's office to see if you can look at the file.
Politely ask the judge's clerk if you can view the file in the judge's office. If the judge is in court, don't try to interrupt a court proceeding - wait until there's a recess.
Sometimes the clerk will allow you to view the file, sometimes not, depending on whether the judge needs access to the file. The requirements of court procedures trump the right of the public to view the files, so you have no recourse here other than just asking.
Some civil courts have put court case documents onilne, so you may be able to review them on a computer terminal at the court clerk's office or remotely via the court's website.
Or you can try contacting the attorneys for the plaintiffs or defendants to see if they'll let you review their copies of records filed in the court case.
But the best advice is to plan ahead and try to look at the court documents when they're available well in advance of a court hearing.