Pennsylvania Court Records
How do Pennsylvania Courts work?
The Supreme Court is the highest power of legal authority in the state, and acts to reside over decisions made by the Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania. It reviews any decisions made by this lesser court, weighing in on any conflicts. The Court of Appeals in turn reviews the decisions made by lower courts such as the superior or trials courts, whenever one party contests a decision. The state is divided into six appellate districts. The 67 superior and trial courts are located in each of the 67 counties.
Civil Cases and Small Claims
Civil and small claims cases differ on a number of key characteristics. Civil cases, for example, concentrate on those in which the petitioner is looking for over $250,000. Nearly 200,000 of these cases are filed on average each year. However, civil cases are not limited to monetary disputes, and can include cases over property, names changes, and restraining orders, for example. On the other hand, small claims courts deal with cases in which the petitioner is looking for $8,000 or less ($10,000 in Philadelphia). These courts are not represented by counsel. These cases can include disputes over warranties, repairs, loans, and deposits, and the court can order the defendant to pay an amount back.
Appeals and court limits
The appeals and court limits also differ from civil to small claims. For instance, civil cases allow pre-trial discovery, where as small claims cases do not. You can also have a lawyer represent you and file papers for you in civil court, but not in small claims. Either party can appeal in civil cases, but only the defendant can appeal in small claims cases. Civil cases must be completed within 120 days of the complaint filing, with the filing itself costing between $180 and $320. Small claims cases must be completed within 30-70 days and the filing costs between $30 and $100.
Why are court records public?
The Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was passed in 1957, and aimed to allow the public to access court and other records upon request. This was also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, and says that the people of the state have the right to access information that is deemed their business. The act states that this is a fundamental right of all Pennsylvanians, and is designed to promote openness and safeguard accountability.
A person can request court records at:
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
601 Commonwealth Avenue
P.O. Box 61260
Harrisburg, PA 17106
Phone: (717) 787-6181