Court records site surveys – part four

I want to alert you to a potential data glitch between the court records index at the court site (if they even have a site) and the data they send to the commercial providers.

I conducted a name search on a California county court site that has a searchable index of civil court cases. The subject’s name was unusual, so there was no confusion with a similarly named person. The index returned a list of cases. I did a parallel search in a commercial database with court filings that fell within the inclusive dates of the cases returned from the county site. The cases listed at the court site should have appeared in the proprietary database but one didn’t.

Apparently there are obstacles to the integration of the various court data formats with the commercial databases, which results in random cases or particular types of cases not appearing in the fee databases. Scott Mattern, Production Manager, Merlin Information Services helpfully explained it this way:

“Basically what happened was in 2003 [Santa Clara County] stopped providing data. We started getting the data again early this year in the new format. The old format didn’t include as much data nor as many case types as the new format…Once we get the new format incorporated any differences should be resolved.”

Scott noted that this data drop occurred with other counties as well.

It’s a clear situation if you know that cases are only reported through 2003 but altogether different if some 2003 cases are included and others are unexpectedly missing. And the real stickler in the data gap conundrum, according to Scott Mattern is, “There is no way of really knowing the extent of the differences.” Read that twice.

Okay, my admonition is that court case research has to go beyond the online sources, even if a case should have been reported. This glitch potentially affects all data providers because the origination point of the problem may be with the court, not the commercial company.

An additional annoyance is that none of the data providers alert their users to the gaps in the court supplied index. But, frankly, they may not even know about it themselves.

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