When preparing a background report from a resident of Texas, civil records will be important bits of data expected. Although there are many, many websites that have public records, locating the specific civil records that you want, specifically in Texas may take a few investigative skills. But, no need to worry, it’s possible.
The government and the other guys…
There are government sites, including county websites where you can either search or contact the appropriate personal for the civil record. There are also non-government related, public records search sites where you may find what you are looking for. This article will focus mainly on the government sites, because even they do not guarantee their search results and if they cannot, then other, non-official sites definitely cannot.
First, let’s quickly outline civil cases; very simply, it is all non-criminal litigation, involving a plaintiff and defendant.
- Court cases dealing with divorces
- Land records
A criminal case involves the state against an individual who has broken the law and the individual is punished by being required to carry out some jail time or in the most extreme cases, the death penalty.
However, civil cases can also involve the state. In a civil case, the individual is most commonly required to pay some damages to the other person or the plaintiff for example, a fine; publicrecordsguide.com sums it up nicely: “It (civil court) relates to the private rights and remedies sought by civil actions, which are actions brought to enforce, redress or protect those rights. In other words, the term “civil” encompasses all types of actions other than criminal.”
Alright so where do I start?
The Texas Public Records Act, “Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, gives you the right to access government records; and an officer for public information and the officer’s agent may not ask why you want them.”
However, there may be certain records that you can’t access because they are confidential and have been deemed so by the court so, in certain cases there may be more exceptions on whether you can obtain a record; keep this in mind. This being said, you still have access to a wide range of records.
Texas Courts online say “The Texas court “system,” at the level of trial courts, is highly localized. The Office of Court Administration does not have a single portal for case searches.” Instead, they provide a list of the counties where you can search for a particular case; “the district courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction of Texas.”
The amount of district courts that a county has depends on its size. If really populated, the district courts may even be divided up into civil, criminal or juvenile courts for example. There is also a listing on www.courts.state.tx.us/courts/dclinks.asp with all the counties and their district courts. Because it is highly localized, civil records searches may be slightly different for every county but generally, the county is the place to start.
Every county has a district clerk whom you can find on the counties website. The district clerk is responsible to “assure that the affairs of the district courts are maintained objectively with the full confidence of judicial authorities” and among the description of their duties is to, “record the acts and proceedings of the district court.” They maintain these records as well.
For convenience, there is a website called www.texascounties4u.org that lists all the counties in Texas and links them to their official website (there are a few who have no website link because this list only includes “county government maintained sites). Most sites will have a records search option and if not, then you will find the contact information for the district clerk. For the searches, you will need to know information such as the case number, whether the case is closed or open, and the approximate date it was filed. There may be a few other search options as well.
So walk me through this…
One county that has records searches well laid out is Harrison County. If you go to their website you will see a quick links tab on the left and one link is called “Search our records and Documents.” This takes you to a page with different search options and one is Civil/Family cases. There are a number of different things you will fill in such as, case number, plaintiff, defendant and court to name a few.
Through Harrison County you can obtain “certified, non-certified or exemplified copies” of records online by mail, Fax, as well as at public kiosks that can be found in their Customer Service sections on-site. Costs for documents are $1.00 per page and an additional $5.00 if a search for the record is needed. Payment methods range from cash to credit cards to money orders and only certain types of checks; namely those that are for a law firms, lawyers or other legal entities or, in other words, no personal checks. If you have any questions, there is a “Civil Customer Service” contact listed on this page as well.
I know I said I was going to focus on the government sites, but there are also many non-government related websites that are devoted to providing public records searches. One such site is called nors.us., or “National Open Records Search Project.” There, you can search Texas Civil Records simply by putting in the first and last name of the individual related to the record and the city; as far as I know, it is not free though.
Of course, searching through such a broad range of records with very unspecific information may not give you very accurate results but, if you are simply curious about a record or incident that someone may have been involved with, this might be all you need to do for a search. If you need a document for official reasons, you will most likely have to go through the government, where accuracy of a document is much more likely.
Categories: State News and Tips