When you need to locate a federal court filing, at least from 1996-present, the odds are good that you will find it on PACER (see Reference Desk for access). Law students, faculty and staff may also have some luck with locating federal dockets, briefs and other court documents on LexisNexis and Westlaw.
State court records and briefs, however, are another matter entirely. PACER covers only federal courts, and there is no comparable database which attempts to include documents from all state courts. LexisNexis and Westlaw’s coverage of state dockets varies widely: some states include only civil filings, some states are not included at all, and the available years are unpredictable. Many law libraries, including Duke’s, do maintain print or microform collections of state court records and briefs, but their coverage varies widely as well.
Thankfully, locating records and briefs from New York and California state courts is about to get easier. LLMC Digital recently announced two digitization partnerships: one with Google, to provide the New York Records and Briefs collection; and the other with the Los Angeles County Law Library to provide California records and briefs. The New York collection is slated to debut in summer 2009; California’s release date is still unspecified.
When available, these records and briefs collections will be added to the Goodson Law Library research guide on Court Records & Briefs. Until then (as always), Ask a Librarian for help locating New York and California records and briefs.