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What are Texas Civil Court Records?
Texas civil court records provide official documentation of cases filed at the civil court. They detail in-court proceedings. Court records are maintained in a case file, which includes docket sheets and other documents generated during the case, such as transcripts, tapes of depositions, and other proceedings filed with the court clerk.
Who Can Access Civil Court Records?
Almost anyone can access public records. Texas’s public record law preserves a right of access to public records. It ensures that public civil court records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. The task of processing requests for court records is typically handled by the court clerk after receiving a request that contains sufficient specificity needed to find the record. Requesters may not be required to disclose their name or contact details to record custodians unless expressly set by law.
What information is contained in a Texas Civil Court File?
While the exact contents of civil court records vary with different case files, most civil court files generally provide the following information:
- The complaint, amended complaint or a substituted compliant
- Judgment file
- Cross complaints and third party complaints
- Memorandum of decision
- Executions issued and return
- Order of notice and appearances
Understanding the Texas Civil Court System
Texas’s court structure features a bifurcated system that splits civil and criminal cases across different types of courts over five broad levels. Civil cases are handled at the supreme courts, intermediate appellate courts, state trial courts, county-level courts, and local trial courts.
The state of Texas has two courts of last resort: the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Texas Supreme Court serves as the court of last resort for civil and juvenile cases. It presides over civil cases sent from the courts of appeal, while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals specializes in hearing criminal cases.
The Courts of Appeal constitute the intermediate level in the Texas Court system. It’s made up of 14 courts and 80 justices. Each of these courts has general jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases originating from district courts, constitutional county courts, and other county-level courts.
State Trial Courts
The main trial courts for the state, district courts have general jurisdiction over felony cases and civil matters. They also preside over election cases and divorce cases. Each court operates within a geographic area that is established by the state legislature.
Made up of constitutional county courts, statutory probate courts, county courts at law and constitutional courts, courts at this level specialize or have limited jurisdiction over civil cases. With one court in each county, Constitutional County courts handle misdemeanor offenses that carry a jail sentence or fine. They also preside in civil cases where the amount in dispute is between $200 and $10,000.
Local Trial Courts
Municipal and justice courts make up the local trial courts for the state of Texas. They have limited jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters such as misdemeanors (fines only), traffic infractions and ordinance violations.
How to Find Civil Court Records
Texas Civil court records may be accessed using any three means:
- Obtaining records in person
- Obtaining records online
- Obtaining records by mail
How to Obtain Texas Civil Court Records Online
Not all civil court records can be obtained online. Access to records of civil cases filed at a district court may only be available by directly visiting or contacting the clerk of court at the courthouse where the case was filed. Similarly, older records of cases filed before 1980 may only be available in traditional print form, which effectively prevents the option of online access. Online access to confidential civil court cases, such as records of child custody cases or cases filed in a juvenile court, is also protected from direct or online public view.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
How to Obtain Texas Civil Court Records in Person
Step 1. Gather Information
Visiting the court directly provides the quickest and most effective way of obtaining a civil court record. Interested parties will be required to submit a written request for the records, providing specific information that can expedite the clerk’s search. To successfully submit a valid request, interested parties must first confirm that they have all the information required to identify the record. Some of the information required includes:
- The case number
- Names of one or both parties named in the suit
- Location of the courthouse
- Name of the presiding judge
- Type of lawsuit
- Date of the lawsuit
Step 2. Visit the Courthouse
Most courts permit members of the public to view, inspect or make copies of public civil court records. This is done at terminals located on the courthouse during specific hours. Residents can also obtain copies by submitting a request to the court clerk. Depending on when the case was filed, some older records may be stored in off-site locations. In which case, requesters may be asked to return.
Step 3. Pay the Fee for Copies
While the court charges no fee for viewing or inspecting court records, it sets a fee for making copies of court records. This fee may include an additional charge for any requests that include certified court records. The exact fee payable is determined by the court.
How to Obtain Texas Civil Court Records by Mail
To obtain civil court records by mail, members of the public must first establish that the clerk of court offers this service. Details on how to request records via mail can be found by visiting the official court’s website or contacting the clerk of court. The website also provides details on the cost of securing copies of civil court records using this method. Submitted request forms must include specific information to facilitate the search, such as a case number (if known) or names of the parties involved.
Searching for Civil Court Records
In cases where requesters do not have case numbers, civil court records can still be found using different methods, such as searching through calendars, dockets, and name indexes.
- Using Calendar/Dockets: Most court clerks maintain a docket or calendar which provides information on pending cases. The docket contains the name of the defendant and plaintiff, as well as the courtroom where the case will be held and the case number. Dockets are often organized by the names of the presiding judge.
- Using Name Index: Name indexes contain an alphabetical listing of the persons or businesses that have filed a civil suit in court. Members of the public can search through the name index to identify the parties involved in a dispute being brought before the civil court. Name indexes include the names of both parties: the person(s) being sued (defendant) and individuals filing the lawsuit (plaintiff).
Where can I find Texas Civil Court Records for Free?
Residents of Texas can view and inspect public civil court records by visiting the housing court. Texas law preserves the public’s right to freely access public government records. However, although viewing and inspecting records is free, requesters will be expected to pay a fee if they intend to make copies of a record.