When you use a state court directory on CourtReference.com, one of the first things you notice is that we provide contact information – address, phone, and fax – for every state, county, and local trial court in the United States.
Anyone looking for court information online is most likely interested in what types of information are available online from the court. The information sought could be online access to court case records, court calendars, lawyer referral services, downloadable forms, or any of the other online resource categories that we provide via links. The types and sheer volume of information available online is growing so fast that we sometimes expect that any information one might need is on the World Wide Web.
But it’s not. Not every court has all of its cases, or its calendar, or any information at all online. In our post about court websites last month, we discussed the huge variance in the amount and quality of content on court websites (if they exist at all). If you can’t find the court-related information you need online, you must either contact the court directly, or pay a visit. Many court websites provide an e-mail address, perhaps even one for each public-facing employee. Still, most court offices are more accustomed to doing business by telephone; if you call during regular business hours, you are more likely to get an immediate answer by phone than by using e-mail. In-person visits also work well, especially if you need to look at files, posted court calendars, or other types of information that are not available online. That’s why we supply the address and telephone number for every court.
When you call or visit the court, it helps to know the roles of the people at the courthouse – or, as often as not, a separate annex or administrative office building. In a previous post, we described the people you’ll see in a courtroom setting: judge, jury, attorneys, bailiff, court clerk, court reporter, and more. The only person on that list that most people will ever need to contact or visit is the court clerk. We discussed the various titles and roles of court clerks in another previous post. The court clerk’s office is the public-facing organization of most courts and court systems. If you want to file a case, look up records, or just ask for court-related information, the court clerk’s office is almost always your starting point. Only parties in a lawsuit can talk to the judge, and then only if the other party is present (most often, that means both parties’ lawyers are present). That’s why, when we provide contact information for a court, we usually provide the address, phone, and fax of the court clerk’s office.
As always, there are exceptions. For example, every Ohio county has a Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. But the Court of Common Pleas in most Ohio counties has separate divisions: General, Domestic Relations, Probate, and Juvenile. The clerk is almost always the clerk of the General and Domestic Relations divisions only; Probate and Juvenile judges serve as their own clerks. In practice, a Probate or Juvenile judge in Ohio will normally have a person or staff to handle clerical duties and interface with the public – but that’s not the Clerk of Court, and not part of the Clerk of Court’s office. When you visit an Ohio county page on CourtReference.com, the contact information for Court of Common Pleas General and Domestic Relations Divisions will normally be for the Clerk of Court; the contact information for Probate or Juvenile Division will be the separate office that serves that Division. In some counties, contact information for Probate or Juvenile Division will be the same as the judge’s contact information, although you probably won’t actually get to talk to the judge.
We provide you with the address and phone number that is most useful for obtaining court records and other court-related information. If you don’t need court information, but just need to know where to go to fight your ticket (or appear for any other trial or court business before the judge), the court clerk is often in the same location as the judge’s chambers and courtroom. In some counties, the historic courthouse may have beautiful courtrooms but insufficient office space for increasing busy clerk’s offices, so there is a separate annex or administration building. If the clerk’s office and courtroom are in separate locations, we provide the clerk’s address and then add (in italics) the location for actual court sessions. Here is an example for a Virginia Circuit Court, and one for an Ohio Municipal Court.
Another exception may be found in some Municipal Courts that serve small populations and may only be open one day a week. These courts may not have a clerk at all; the contact information might be for a town hall – which may or may not be where court is held – or it might be the judge’s home. We covered these here.
If the court’s address includes a post office box, we include it on the same line as the street address. The zip code for the post office box may not be the same as the zip code for the street address; we use the zip code for the post office box, because the zip code is most important for mailing purposes. If the mailing address is a different street number, street, or town than the physical address, we provide the mailing and physical addresses on separate lines. Here is an example from Virginia.
Also bear in mind that courts may change their locations by combining with other courts; we covered the sharing of court services in New Jersey Municipal Courts, consolidation of court systems in several states here, and realignment of Pennsylvania Magisterial District Courts.
If you’re not sure which court you need to contact, the first page of each of our state court guides explains the types of cases that each court handles. Here’s an example from Ohio. Note that in Ohio, if there are multiple Municipal Courts in a county, you also need to know which parts of each county are served by each Municipal Court; we provide that information as needed on each county page, and we explained it in detail here.