When Court Websites Come Up Short

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Businesses, organizations, units of government, even many individuals have websites. It’s no surprise that many courts also have websites. As with any other entity’s website, some court websites are better than others: easier to see what’s there, easier to navigate, with more content.

On some court websites, it’s obvious at first glance how to contact the court by mail and phone, how to search case records and court calendars, how to locate and download the forms you need, and how to pay fines online. An explanation of the court’s process; the types of cases the court handles; and links to court rules, special programs, the law library, and self-help resources are easy to find. Some court websites even include links to related agencies and organizations, such as probation departments, prosecutor’s offices, public defender offices, child support departments, legal aid agencies, and bar associations.

On the other hand, some court websites may include only a phone number or address – which might be incorrect if the website has not been maintained. The great majority of court websites fall somewhere in between content-rich and bare-bones, and in between easy and inscrutable. CourtReference endeavors to bring you all the available content for each court, no matter how difficult it may be to find on the court website – and even when there is no court website at all. We also include related resources from other state and local entities that relate to the court but are not normally found on a court website.

Take, for example a court with no website at all:  Fairfax Municipal Court in Allendale County, South Carolina. Although this court has no website, CourtReference uses multiple online sources to verify the court’s contact information, and it appears on our Allendale County page along with all the other courts in that county. Unless you called the court (using the phone number supplied by CourtReference), you wouldn’t know that you can search Fairfax Municipal Court case records online, and pay your fines and traffic tickets online. If you click the blue “Online Resources” link under Fairfax Municipal Court, you’ll see our CourtReference page full of resources applicable to Fairfax Municipal Court – note that it includes not only the case record and payment resources unique to Fairfax Municipal Court, but it also includes many statewide resources that can help you understand your legal issues, or to find a lawyer to assist.

Let’s take a look at a court with a bare-bones website. Some Georgia municipal courts have their own content-rich websites, but many use a page from the Georgia state municipal court directory, which only contains contact information. For example, check out Trion Municipal Court in Chattooga County. Since most municipal court cases are traffic-related, you might want to know how to pay your fine. It’s not on the website, but it’s on CourtReference’s Online Resource page for Trion Municipal Court. Scroll down to the bottom of that page, to our Online fine payments category, and you’ll see that you can pay your regular traffic fine online – and if you were speeding a few too many times, you can pay your state-mandated “Super-Speeder” additional fine online too. Also note the many other resources, including “Municipal Court Information” in our Self help, legal research… category, which applies to all GA municipal courts.

Some court websites have links that are not easily noticed, such as these two examples from Brazoria County, Texas. The Clute Municipal Court website doesn’t make it easy to find its online citation payment link (it’s one of the options in the “Online Bill Pay” link at the top of the page). CourtReference has it in our Online fine payments category.

Still in Brazoria County, the Richwood Municipal Court website has its citation payment link in red to catch your attention – but it takes you to the home page of the payment provider, from which you have to navigate to the payment page. The link to Richwood Municipal Court’s online payments on CourtReference’s Online Resources page will take you directly to the payment page; just scroll down to our Online fine payments category. Speaking of Richwood Municipal Court, where is the link to its information about pleas, or the Driving Safety Course? They’re in the drop-down Departments menu but they only appear when you hover over Municipal Court. If you reached that website by searching for “Richwood Municipal Court” you wouldn’t see those links. CourtReference makes them easy to find, in our Self help, legal research… category.

In Decatur County, Georgia, the Bainbridge Municipal Court website has the clerk’s phone number and a brief description of the court, then some unrelated news items, then (if the “news” didn’t stop you) a link to its online fine payment. The court also has a searchable calendar, which is not found on the court website (the “Events Calendar” on that page doesn’t include court dates). It’s on our Online Resources page, in the Dockets, calendars… category.

Finally, in Blackford County, Indiana, the Clerk’s office website has contact information and hours – and very little else. You wouldn’t know from looking at this website that you can search for Blackford County case records online. Indiana has a statewide online record search, which you can find by clicking the “Online Resources” link under Blackford County Circuit Court or Superior Court. From our Online Resources page, you’ll find the case record search link in our Searching Case Records category – along with other searches including protective order records. In our other categories, you can check the court calendars and find links to laws, court rules, legal help, and forms.

I could go on and on about how much information you can find on CourtReference. Just because a court has a website doesn’t mean you can find it easily online. When you do find it, it may note have all the information you desire. On CourtReference, you can click once to select a state, click once to select a county, and voila! – the court contact information, a direct link to its website (if it has one), and links to many more helpful resources than you are likely to find on the best court websites.

 

 

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