Online Court Indexes Are Unreliable

Search an online court index. It functions well (some do) and it returns an index record of cases filed for the subject’s name. But you don’t know if “no record found” is a false negative, do you? This is a problem with County Recorder records, too. court(See Defects in online “official” public records.) I highlighted other instances (in 2011!) in Public records and newspaper databases – Are they what you think they are?

And now, a local California court research company, Baxter Research, is reporting on a discovery they made with the San Mateo County Court index. This is surely occurring with other courts. But the courts aren’t notifying visitors to their websites beyond the general disclaimer.

We’ve discovered that, unbeknownst to the researcher community or public, the San Mateo Criminal Court has been taking a portion of its index off-line every day for updating.

One would never know it by examining or using this index, but it is comprised of 3 separate sources or systems. The court is temporarily disconnecting at least one of these systems for an unspecified time every day without notice.

We came upon this fact when we noticed that subject we had previously reported a record on came up clear on a current search. It was our investigation into this discrepancy that lead us to the above discovery, which we have now confirmed with the court itself.

We have contacted the court and asked them to duly notify the public of this daily truncation. When they refused, we requested they take the entire index off-line while performing these updates, given the obvious liability to anyone who happened to use it during those time periods.

In view of the fact the court has refused this request as well, we have resolved to avoid using the San Mateo Criminal Index whenever it is being covertly truncated.

Subsequently, we have determined the most hazardous time to use the index is before 11 AM PST daily.

Furthermore we’ve determined the index should not be used until the date and time stamp on it is updated to that day’s date. If it is still showing a previous day’s date, it should not be used.

Crazy, yes, but there it is.

Also, we are currently re-indexing every subject we have searched in the San Mateo Criminal Court of late. So far we are back to December 21. We will promptly alert you if we ascertain that any of your searches have been adversely affected.

(via Baxter Research)

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Online Court Indexes Are Unreliable
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Search an online court index. It functions well (some do) and it returns an index record of cases filed for the subject's name. But you don't know if "no record found" is a false negative, do you?
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3 thoughts on “Online Court Indexes Are Unreliable

  1. Great observation and I am glad you are putting the word out there. This is something I have found to be true in my experience as well. Perhaps Google should take on this project and give us accurate court records!

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