California Civil Court proprietary databases become less useful

Those of you who have been following my musings over the past year on my prior blog, PI News Link, know the pitfalls of the California court indexes maintained by the data brokers. My posting, Court Records Site Surveys-Part Four, pointed to data gaps in the county indexes – even those that fall within the inclusive dates. I highlighted a comparative search of the Santa Clara County online government site index and that of a data broker.

Recently I performed a similar search of the San Francisco County online government site index. I searched the party name, which returned a half dozen cases from 1996 and 1997. I ran the same search at Merlindata. Its civil cases are indexed from 01/04/1988 to 09/20/2001. None of the cases appeared in their index. What’s going on?

Merlindata court records, as with any other vendor, are only as good as the data the court provides. The San Francisco Court hasn’t sold their court index information for 5 years and may have added older cases that weren’t included in prior years.

Have any of you noticed a similar problem? I’m wondering if non California court data is equally flawed.


7 thoughts on “California Civil Court proprietary databases become less useful

  1. The Michigan Dept. of Ed. listed many teachers as sex offenders who had no criminal record, in response to a new state law, showing that the government can’t necessarily keep accurate records. No wonder it’s such a challenge for those of us who are in in biz of sorting fact from fiction! Read the article at:

  2. Steve, I can attest to investigators seeming unable to complete thorough checks for public records. What I stress to many of them is that the “interview” with whatever clerk is in charge of the records is the most important part of any check. The question I like to ask is variations on “What does this cover.” I ask them specifically, “If I run my subject’s information through this computer, what years does that check?” Or, “What records does this database cover? Divorces? Civil lawsuits? Traffic violations?” It is usually very simple to get straight answers from the clerk, and it always surprises me just how few people spend the time to actuall talk with the clerk.

  3. Not only do I not trust the “runners” but, unless I have worked with someone long enough to know that they are capable of researching the records properly, I don’t even trust some of those with whom I work!!! Every county seems to employ a different system and, shamefully, the “investigators” I have dealt with in the past are lacking in the ability to adequately research the records. Perhaps it can be contributed to their not understanding how or why the records are recorded, or because they fail to ask the county employees the required questions to insure a thorough search, but, generally, the only one I trust is myself.

  4. Physical court checks by PIs is the only way to go. I don’t trust the “background checks” court runners because I’ve heard disaster stories. When we report our search results – whether the checks were at a government site, through a database provider or by another party – this is stated in our reports.

  5. We have observed this issue of incomplete database records for the last 20years. It is a serious problem because most client companies are unaware of the fact that they are missing up to 30% of the publically available records; in particular criminal and civil court records. We have been tracking these stats with respect to pre-employment screening results for the last 10+ years.

    1)There are no benchmarks of accuracy for the primary third-party records providers.
    2)Many county courts have “holes” or data gaps in their own records; and data providers do not note this in their records at all.

    Currently, the only way to have highly accurate reporting is to have trained investigators physically reviewing court records. This should be a requirement for any and all so called Consumer Reporting Agencies; even those that say they go to the courts frequently “miss” conviction histories–how is that possible when we are reviewing the same records at the same courthouses?

    Clients are unaware that their apparent “cost-savings” are not really saving them anything, as they are missing critical data; including many felony convictions. Penny-wise, pound-foolish.

    I’m delighted to see this discussion forum emerge in our industry–congratulations Tamara & Rosemarie!

  6. Personally, I’m glad to see you plug your site Tim. Search Systems is a fantastic resource and I am a frequent user.

    One thing to keep in mind about even so-called “direct” sites is that they aren’t always 100% updated either. I have done searches in jurisdictions where I learned that their online databases were only updated once every other month. Obviously, if the person you’re looking for only generated a record in the last month or so it isn’t going to show up online.

    If I need to be sure I always get a hold of a clerk and have them do the search. Or, if that won’t work, I get a hold of somebody local and have them do it. Sure it costs more, but better safe than sorry.

  7. There’s a common misconception that the information provided online by public agencies is the same as provided by online data brokers.

    Not true.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to the “public agency direct” (oftentimes free) sites v. broker databases. The “Direct” databases will always have more current and accurate information because they are the source. The brokers have to purchase, download, format, and regularly update their information from file “dumps” and therefore going to be less up-to-date, less accurate, and more prone to error.

    But that doesn’t mean that the broker databases aren’t worth the money you pay. The “Direct” sites are usually single-jurisdiction sites and it can be time consuming to search all the jurisdictions that are available. The broker databases allow the savvy researcher to search a broad array of databases at once, and also they include jurisdictions that aren’t available from the direct sources.

    I didn’t write this comment to plug our web siet, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t add this: We just finished putting together a section on our web site of all of the “direct” court and inmate databases that we’ve been able to locate over the last ten years. If you go through it you’ll find that there are a substantial number of databases there that have information that won’t be found in any of the broker databases.
    Check it out here if you’re curious:

    Great site Tamara & Rosemarie!

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