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Free Court Case Docket Monitoring

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Paul Bush, founder of Legal Dockets Online

 

Logo for Legal Dockets Online11 April 2005. While most attorneys are aware that many courts around the country have been offering inexpensive and free access to case dockets on the Internet for years, many are not aware that dockets can be automatically monitored for free as well. Attorneys and other researchers tend to get set in their ways, relying upon vendors to inform them which court jurisdictions are available for automatic monitoring, and which arenít. In addition to being too busy or thinking they lack the technical ability, many people just donít know which courts are offering docket sheets, and the methods used to monitor them.

 
 

The method for setting up a system to monitor court cases is very simple.

 
 

Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts

Currently, there are about 150 U.S. district and bankruptcy courts that utilize the CM/ECF system. In addition to the obvious benefits of docketing and electronic filing, another valuable feature of CM/ECF is electronic noticing. This is an automated process whereby the text of new case docket entries, and links to the associated documents, are distributed via e-mail. In order to participate in electronic noticing in most courts, you must first obtain an electronic case filing account.

The specific requirements for obtaining an ECF account vary from court to court, but you must be admitted to practice in a court before your ID and password will be issued. Some courts allow an attorney to sign up online. They will activate the account within hours. Others require mailing a hardcopy of the ECF application. They may also require training.

Itís free to create an ECF account, and e-filing is quickly becoming mandatory in the federal courts, so itís a good idea to sign up. After your account is set up, youíll receive timely notices of new docket entries free of charge, as well as one free look at documents for cases in which you have appeared.

Although there are different court policies and software releases of CM/ECF being used, the following method should work for monitoring cases youíre not involved in:

  1. Log in to the appropriate ECF court site and click "Utilities" on the upper right side of the blue bar that runs across the top of the screen.

  2. Under "Your Account," click "Maintain Your Account."*

  3. Scroll down and click the button labeled "Email information."

  4. Check the box labeled "Send notices in these additional cases," and enter the case numbers for the cases you would like to monitor.

  5. Click the button labeled "Return to Account screen."

  6. Scroll down and click the button labeled "Submit."

  7. You will need to click a "submit" button again, and then see a summary of the options you have selected for your account.

(*If you donít see the "Your Account" link, this means the court youíre practicing in does not allow you to alter your account options online, and you must call them to make any changes needed. Also, some courts will allow you to participate in electronic noticing without having an e-filing account.)

To use a step-by-step computer training module for electronic noticing, click "Setting Up Automatic E-mail", on the PACER Service Centerís CM/ECF site: http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/ecfcbt/dc/.

U.S. Supreme, State, and Local Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court and many state and local courts post free docket sheets online using various systems built in-house or created by legal software companies. The method for setting up a system to monitor these court cases is very simple. Below are the steps needed, for example, to set up monitoring for a U.S. Supreme Court docket.

First go to the courtís Web site and click "docket." Enter the case number or party name and click the search button. Then select the link to the case, which will display the docket in your browser.

Notice how the docket is displayed with its own unique URL address. Using your mouse, highlight and copy the URL. Youíll paste this later to set up the monitoring.

Also, create a direct link to the docket in your favorites, bookmarks or in your Intranet site.

Next, go to a free Web page monitoring site such as WatchThatPage. Follow the directions to create an account, and then paste the docketís URL into the proper location for monitoring. Thatís it! You have just created a free automated mechanism for monitoring a U.S. Supreme Court case docket.

To be sure youíre alerted promptly with updates, customize the frequency for the docket to be checked every few hours, seven days a week. When a docket entry or other change is made, the e-mail address you designate will receive notice with a link to the docket. Youíll also receive an e-mail alert if the court site is not working.

Although I have only used this monitoring method for the U.S. Supreme Court, monitoring other courtsí case docket sheets in this manner should work just as easily. As long as the page where your docket sheet is located can be monitored, you can conduct free, timely automated case monitoring. You should experiment, and not rely solely on this strategy for case docket monitoring, since each courtís public access policies, docketing procedures and technologies are different.

Free Court Dockets

Below is a brief list of some of the courts that offer free dockets online. You can probably monitor them using the above-described method.

U.S. Tax Court
Arizona: Maricopa and Pima County Superior Courts.
California: Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, and Ventura County Superior Courts.
Connecticut: Superior Court civil cases.
Florida: Supreme Court and various Circuit Courts.
Georgia: Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Illinois: Circuit Courts in many counties.
Kansas: Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Shawnee County District Court.
Kentucky: Supreme Court.
Massachusetts: Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Michigan: Grand Traverse and Macomb County Circuit Courts.
Mississippi: Supreme Court.
North Carolina: Supreme Court.
North Dakota: Supreme Court.
Ohio: Common Pleas and Municipal Courts in many counties.
Oklahoma: Appellate and District Courts.
Texas: District and County Courts in Brazoria, Comal, Denton, El Paso, Grayson, Gregg, Lamar, Rockwall, Tom Green, Williamson and other counties.
Washington: Pierce County Superior Court.
Wisconsin: Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit Courts.

As federal, state and local courts continue to improve their technology regarding online case information, itís more important than ever to know where to look and how effectively to monitor case dockets. There are always exceptions to rules and procedures, but the two methods of docket monitoring I have described should significantly help to increase the value, timeliness and efficiency of your case monitoring efforts.

© 2005 Paul Bush all rights reserved.
 

 
 

Paul Bush is an electronic services analyst with Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, based in New York City. He also is the founder and manager of Legal Dockets Online.

 
 

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Created: 11 April 2005
Revised:
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