Exploring publicly filed documents

Employment lawyers find information from public documents

Attorneys use publicly filed documents to obtain a wealth of information about defendants and their counsel.

The most comprehensive public document searches are performed by fee-based companies (i.e., WESTLAW and LEXIS) and/or private investigators. However, many documents can be obtained for free. Among other things, publicly filed documents can help an attorney:

  1. Conduct skip tracing on missing defendants and witnesses.
  2. Locate information regarding the defendant’s financial wealth.
  3. Identify registered agents for service of process.
  4. Determine whether the defendant or witnesses have criminal records or have ever been sued.
  5. Learn about the courtroom successes and failures of opposing counsel.

Federal court documents: PACER

Documents filed in the federal and state courts are a valuable source of information. Many of the documents filed in federal court can be accessed through the “Public Access to Court Electronic Records” (“PACER”) service, which is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from the federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts, as well as from the U.S. Party/Case Index.

The U.S. Party/Case Index is a national index for U.S. district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts which contains a small subset of information from each case maintained in the federal courts nationwide. A U.S. Party/Case Index search can determine whether or not a party has been involved in federal litigation. If so, plaintiff’s counsel can find detailed information on each such case on the PACER system for the particular jurisdiction where the case is located.

The PACER System offers electronic access to case dockets to retrieve information such as:

  • A listing of all parties and participants, including judges, attorneys, and trustees.
  • A compilation of case-related information such as cause of action, nature of suit, and dollar demand.
  • A chronology of dates of case events entered in the case record.
  • A claims registry.
  • A listing of new cases each day in the bankruptcy court.
  • Appellate court opinions.
  • Judgments or case status.
  • Types of documents filed for certain cases.
  • Electronic copies of filed documents (in a limited number of courts).

State court documents

Unlike the PACER system, there is no single service for locating documents filed in state court. Instead, each state, if it offers electronic access at all (and most do not), does so in a different manner.

Nevertheless, plaintiff’s counsel will probably attempt to conduct a public records search on the defendant in the state in which the discrimination took place and the state in which the defendant is headquartered.