Searchable Databases of Judicial Decisions? It’s Possible!

What if there were a searchable database of state court judicial decisions, and you could readily find out how your judge decided cases like yours?  Many state courts have online databases of court case dockets, and some have viewable and downloadable case filings. But searchable data on how a certain judge has ruled on certain types of cases is not readily available, and ascertaining this information usually involves viewing numerous documents online or going through mounds of paper files in a courthouse clerk’s office.

file room

file room (Photo credit: Chris Blakeley)

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), an organization associated with Syracuse University, gathers research regarding the federal government, including federal judges.  On TRAC’s website is a database of caseload information on criminal sentencing decisions of federal judges who have sentenced 50 or more criminal defendants since 2008.  In a March 5, 2012 New York Times article titled Wide Sentencing Disparity Found Among U.S. Judges, author Mosi Secret reported on an analysis by TRAC finding “vast disparities” in federal sentencing by judges in similar cases.  This revelation raises the issue whether the same “vast disparities” occur in civil judicial decisions as well.

Searchable databases of state court judicial decisions, and thus transparency in judicial decision making, would benefit all legal consumers.  It would allow legal consumers to assess on their own how local judges have ruled on similar cases.  This would aid in decisions whether to retain an attorney and pursue litigation.  It would also allow legal consumers to obtain potentially case determinative information before/during litigation, including before/during settlement negotiations.  The more information legal consumers have, the better decisions they can make.

You’ve got options.  The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field.  Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970.

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