Free Court Case Docket Monitoring
By Paul Bush
April 5, 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 aren’t. In addition to being too busy or thinking they lack the technical ability, many people just don’t know which courts are offering docket sheets, and the methods used to monitor them.
Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts
Currently there are about 150 US district and bankruptcy courts that are utilizing
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 email. In order to participate in this 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 and will activate their account within hours, while others require mailing a hardcopy of the ECF application, and may even require training. It’s free to create an ECF account, and e-filing is quickly becoming mandatory in the federal courts, so it’s a good idea to sign up. After your account is set up, you’ll 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 you’re 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 don’t see the “Your Account” link, this means the court you’re 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 Center’s CM/ECF site: http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/ecfcbt/dc/
US Supreme, State, and Local Courts
The US 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 to set up a US Supreme Court docket to be monitored as an example.
First go to the court’s web site, www.supremecourtus.gov, and click “docket.” Input your case number or party name and click the search button. Then select the link to your
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 this URL. You’ll paste this later to set up your monitoring. Also, now is a good time to create a direct link to the
docket in your favorites, bookmarks, or on your Intranet, if you wish.
Next, go to a free web page monitoring site such as www.watchthatpage.com. Follow the directions to create an account, and then paste your docket’s URL into the proper location for monitoring. That’s it! You have just created a free automated mechanism for monitoring a US Supreme Court case docket.
To be sure you’re 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 email address you designate will receive notice with a link to the docket. You’ll also receive an email alert if the court site is not working.
Although I have only used this monitoring method for the US Supreme Court, monitoring other courts’ 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’ll need to experiment, and should not rely solely on this case docket monitoring since each court’s public access policies, docketing procedures, and technologies are different.
The following is a brief list of just some of the courts that offer free dockets online and can probably be monitored using this method:
US 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, it’s more important than ever to know where to look and how to effectively 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.
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