Are Ohio Court Records Public?
Court records are public and available to be inspected and obtained by the general public under the Open Records Law documented in Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43. The Ohio General Assembly first enacted this law in 1963, and it authorizes individuals to inspect and copy most documents and records filed in Ohio state courts. However, the general public’s right of access does not apply to every court record. Under certain circumstances, the court may decide to seal some records if they contain confidential information. Typically, sealed court records include documents containing sensitive information such as minors’ details and other information that can compromise the record subject's safety. Sealed court records are restricted from public view and can only be accessed by parties involved in the cases referenced and other persons the court permits.
How Do I Find Court Records in Ohio?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Ohio is to draft a request application and send it to the courthouse where the case was filed or heard. In Ohio, courts maintain official court records in hard copy or electronic format; thus, interested persons can access documents in either form. There are two primary ways to access court records. These include:
- Onsite request at the courthouse
- Online request
Onsite Request at the Courthouse
Go to the courthouse where the case was filed and request the records in writing from the court’s clerk. Usually, a request form will be provided for the requestor to fill out accurately and provide certain details, such as the specific record of interest. The information the requestor provides is what will be used to search; hence it is necessary to clarify the documents requested. If the request is not explicit, the courthouse may contact the requestor for clarification, making the process unnecessarily longer.
As provided by the Open Records Law, requestors do not need to state the purpose of the court record request, and their identification is also not necessary. Individuals can choose to maintain anonymity when placing requests. Persons requesting copies of case transcripts and depositions should direct their applications to the court reporter during regular business hours instead of the court unless they can provide adequate proof that they are not parties to the related action.
The Ohio judiciary website provides a list of all the Courts in Ohio and their respective locations, phone numbers, and websites. Details on how to access court records and the associated fees in each court are provided on the courts’ website. Interested persons may also contact the court clerk where the case was filed to get information on how to access court records. Paper and electronic court records are both available at the courthouses where the cases of interest were filed.
Requestors can request court records online on the website of the courthouse where the case was filed by using the online search or case search portal. Online requests enable requestors to search by name or case number at their convenience from a computer, tablet, or smartphone with a stable internet connection. With a name search, requestors must provide the last and first/middle names or company names. On the other hand, the case number search requires the case type, ticket number, case year, and case status. An online search mostly does not attract a fee.
Generally, the time it takes for requested court records to be made available is determined by the number of records requested, where the records are stored, and the need to review or redact any of the requested documents legally. Response to requests for court records, especially when bulky, will include the estimated number of business days required to satisfy the request, the cost of copies requested, and identification of any parts of the requested record that may be exempt from disclosure.
If a court record request is denied, an explanation will be provided, and non-redacted portions of the records will be released while parts that are exempt and need to be redacted will be explained.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through traditional government sources and third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. To gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites compared to government sources.
How Do Ohio Courts Work?
Ohio courts are made up of three main levels, including the Trial Courts, Courts of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court. Trial courts have the first-hand jurisdiction over most civil and criminal matters and may also be referred to as courts of general jurisdiction. Appeals from the trial courts are transferred to the Ohio Courts of Appeals, the state’s intermediate-level appellate courts. The Courts of Appeals hear appeals from the trial courts in both civil and criminal matters. However, sometimes, a case may be transferred directly to the Supreme Court, thereby bypassing the Courts of Appeals. This may happen when the case is outside the Courts of Appeals’ jurisdiction, such as a case where the defendant is appealing a death sentence judgment passed by a lower court. The Ohio Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and has authority over all Ohio courts. The state’s Supreme Court is the last resort court and has supremacy over the Ohio constitution's interpretation.
Ohio has one Supreme Court composed of seven justices, including one chief justice and six associate justices elected in partisan primaries and nonpartisan general elections. There are 12 appellate districts, with each district having three or more judges. Ohio’s 88 counties are divided into the 12 appellate districts, each having one Court of Appeals. Trial Courts have at least one judge in each court.
What Are Civil Court and Small Claims in Ohio?
Chapter 1925 of the Ohio Revised Code requires that each county and municipal court establishes a small claims division, typically referred to as the small claims court. Ohio small claims courts function as fair, prompt, and inexpensive resolution points for minor disputes. Small claims hearings are informal as there is no jury; instead, the municipal court or county court judge, or a magistrate (a qualified attorney appointed by the judge) presides over cases.
Generally, small claims cases involve small amounts of money; examples of such cases include:
- Claims by tenants to recover security deposits
- Claims by landlords for unpaid rent or damage to their property
- Claims by business and tradespersons for unpaid bills
- Claims by buyers for damages from defective merchandise
- Claims by car owners for damage suffered in minor accidents
- Claims by employees, maids, babysitters, and handypersons for unpaid wages
Small claims courts are restricted to the following:
- The claims must involve a money dispute. This implies that the small claims court is not authorized to issue restraining orders, injunctions, or protection orders; neither is it authorized to grant divorces or order a person to return property.
- A claim cannot be more than $3,000, not including any court costs and interest claimed. The $3,000 limit for each claim also includes counter- or cross-claims.
Despite the amount of money involved, a small claims court cannot preside over specific types of lawsuits, including:
- Lawsuits based on slander, libel, and malicious prosecution
- Lawsuits seeking punitive or exemplary damages
- Lawsuits initiated by an agent or assignee (such as a lawsuit brought by an insurance company on behalf of a policyholder. However, government entities can initiate certain cases through an agent).
Small claims courts cannot resolve claims against the State of Ohio agencies or against the United States government and its agencies. Note that cases that initially meet the requirements of the small claims courts may later be transferred out of small claims court to a civil court if any of the following happens:
- The case starts with a claim for $3,000 or less but later advances to a claim that exceeds $3,000; the case will be transferred to a county or municipal court’s civil division.
- One of the parties to a case requests that the case be transferred to the county or municipal court’s civil division.
What Are Appeals and Court Limits in Ohio?
Appeals are proceedings involving a higher court reviewing or retrying a judgement that has been determined by another court. In Ohio, all cases, excluding non-moving traffic violations can be appealed. The court does not permit defendants to address the court during the appeals process. Ohio has two appellate courts, including the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
An appeal process begins with a defendant filing a notice of appeal with the trial court clerk. The Court of Appeals cannot reduce or extend the time for filing a notice of appeal. In civil and criminal cases, a defendant must file the notice of appeal in criminal or civil cases within thirty (30) days of the judgment or order that is being appealed. The time limit begins from the entry of an order granting or denying the new motion. Appeals by the prosecution are also bound by the thirty (30) day limit. However, suppose the appeal is from an order granting a defense motion to suppress evidence or return property. In that case, the time limit is reduced to seven (7) days from the date of entry into the official court record. Note that if a motion for a new trial is filed because of newly discovered evidence does not extend the time for appealing a judgment.
A notice of appeal must fulfill the following specifications:
- Indicate the party making the appeal;
- Identify the judgment, order, or part of the record from which the appeal comes;
- Indicate the name of the court from which the appeal originates.
The trial court clerk where the judgment was initially passed must serve by mail to all parties’ most recent address, a copy of the notice, and the docketing statement. If the appeal is filed on time, the Court of Appeals may permit amendments to the appeal. The Court of Appeals does not specify any time limit for bringing newly found evidence. The defendant in a criminal case may appeal by leave of the court of appeals. In a criminal case, the government may appeal specific orders as a right and others by leave of court order under ORC 2945.67. The government is not permitted to file a late appeal.
During appellate proceedings, the presence of witnesses is not necessary, and there is no jury. Instead, the judges review the trial transcripts, read the lawyers' briefs, and listen to oral arguments. Typically, only a few guilty findings are reversed, most of the appeals end in guilty verdicts. However, after sentencing, the convicted person can appeal to a higher court; the state cannot appeal if the jury acquits the accused.
An appeal in the appellate court may end in any of the following ways:
- The appellate court agrees with the decision of the lower court
- The appellate court orders the lower court to review its decision
- The appellate court orders the defendant to be released.
Refer to the Ohio Rules of Appellate Procedure for details of the appellate procedure in Ohio.
What Are Ohio Judgment Records?
Judgment records in Ohio show the court's decision to resolve a civil dispute or penalties imposed for a criminal offense. These records are considered public records per the Ohio Open Record Law. However, a requester must identify the record custodian, provide the necessary details to facilitate a search, and pay the applicable administrative fees. Cash, money order, certified check, and credit cards are valid payment methods.
The record custodian for Ohio judgment records is the court clerk in the court that handled the case. This official is responsible for entering the judgment in the court record in the first place. Interested requesters may visit the clerk's office during regular business hours to request judgment records. The administrative staff will require the case number or litigants' names to track the record in the court docket or archives and retrieve the documents of interest. The name of the presiding judge and the year of judgment are also useful information for identifying court records.
Meanwhile, Ohio does not maintain a central online repository for case documents, but the courts in various municipalities do. Persons who wish to obtain judgment records online must first find the court's portal or the clerk's dedicated website — a visit to the county's official website helps accomplish this. For courts that maintain online repositories for case files, the requester must also provide identifying information to obtain the judgment record and pay the applicable fees by credit or debit card.
Ohio judgment records contain varying information, depending on the case type. In any way, persons who obtain judgment records in Ohio can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and judgment date. In addition, judgment records will contain the specific claims of the parties involved or the charges against the defendant, as well as the issued judgment.
What are Ohio Bankruptcy Records?
Ohio bankruptcy records are records of people or companies who have filed for bankruptcy within the state of Ohio. Records of bankruptcy in Ohio often contain intricate financial information of the person or party filing for bankruptcy. The information in the bankruptcy action often includes:
- Identification documents: driver’s license or social security card.
- Asset list: bank statements, real estate deeds, insurance policies, vehicle titles, and any business they may have investments in.
- Income: tax return copies from 2 previous years and pay slips from six months to the present.
- Debt: recent credit report, outstanding bills such as utilities, credit card statements, ongoing legal proceedings (document of foreclosure, debt collection) And judicial liens, creditors’ list, their addresses, and amount owed.
Ohio bankruptcies are filed in any of the two federal bankruptcy courts in Ohio. Such bankruptcy records are public and can be accessed electronically through PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). However, certain information is not revealed, such as complete social security details, the full name of children (if minor), date of birth, and residential address.
Bankruptcy records and related documents such as Ohio liens, judgments, writs, and contracts are maintained and disseminated according to the state's public information act. Interested persons may view or copy these records by querying the record custodian in the jurisdiction where the petition or claim was filed.
How Do I Find My Case Number in Ohio?
A case number refers to a set of numbers allocated to each court case. A case number helps determine the year the case was filed, the court where it was filed, and other details on the case. A case number also provides easier access to case information and allows for a more specific search result, as a case number is unique to each case, and no two cases have the same number. Interested persons can search online with the name of either party involved in the case and also provide other optional information, including filing date and date of birth, to facilitate the search and identify the case number.
In most courts, the required information to perform an online name search for a case number are the first/middle name and last name, or company name, of a party to the case. During a case search, the optional information required includes a date of birth and filing or hearing date. An online name search can be conducted on the “case search” or “record search” portal. The Ohio judiciary website provides a list of all the Courts in Ohio and their respective locations, phone numbers, and websites. A name search to find a case number can also be conducted at the courthouse where the case was filed.
Can You Look up Court Cases in Ohio?
Yes, interested persons can look up court records for court cases that are not sealed in Ohio. However, cases with sensitive information are restricted from public view. Examples of such cases include adoption files and records related to adoption proceedings, trial preparation records, probation or parole records, etc. Open court cases may be accessed remotely via the online search portals of the website of the court where the case was filed. Individuals can also visit the courthouse in person to look up accessible court records. The court mostly does not charge a fee for inspecting the records. However, a nominal fee will apply if copies of the record are to be obtained.
Does Ohio Hold Remote Trials?
Yes, courts in Ohio hold remote trials. However, certain local courts are still open for onsite hearings, but with strict precautions, including monitoring or screening and face covering, which are mandated before entry into the court. These new developments were instilled to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Guidelines on how each court in Ohio will hold their trial hearings are provided on the Ohio Court COVID-19 Responses portal of the Ohio Judicial System website.
What Is the Ohio Supreme Court?
The Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s highest court with authority over all the other courts in Ohio. The Supreme Court in Ohio is the court of last resort with final authority over appeals relating to the Ohio constitution’s interpretation. The state’s Supreme Court oversees admission to the profession and can discipline licensed attorneys in the state. The Supreme Court carries out its functions under the Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio created and regularly amended by the court.
The Ohio Supreme Court hears appeals from the Court of Appeals and other appeals within its jurisdiction. The court has original jurisdiction over habeas corpus, procedendo, mandamus, prohibition, and quo warranto writs. The Supreme court is located at:
Supreme Court of Ohio
Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center
65 South Front Street
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: (614) 387-9000
A subsidiary of the Ohio Supreme Court system is the Ohio Court of Claims, which is a court of limited jurisdiction that caters to cases involving claims against the State of Ohio. These claims typically seek financial compensation for damages.
What Are Ohio Courts of Appeals?
The Ohio Courts of Appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court that receives appeals from lower courts. The Courts of Appeals are authorized to alter, confirm, or reverse rulings from lower courts, including Municipal, County, Common Pleas Courts, Board of Tax Appeals, and the Public Utilities Commission. The Courts of Appeals also hear appeals for criminal, civil, and administrative cases. Also, Ohio Courts of Appeals share original jurisdiction with the Ohio Supreme Court over habeas corpus, procedendo, mandamus, prohibition, and quo warranto writs. There are 12 districts, with each district served by a court of appeals that sits in each of the counties in that district.
What Are Ohio Trial Courts?
Ohio Trial Courts, also known as the Ohio Courts of Common Pleas, are represented in Ohio’s 88 counties. These Courts have general jurisdiction over most cases in the state, including felonies and civil matters where the dispute may amount to more than $15,000 or lower amounts. However, claims involving less than $1,000 may be transferred to a Municipal Court. Ohio Courts of Common Pleas are made up of various divisions, including General, Probate, Juvenile, and Domestic Relations Divisions.
Other Courts in the State include:
Municipal Courts preside over cases involving the violation of municipal ordinances in the state. These Courts are authorized to set a verdict aside, reverse or alter a judgment, order the suspension of a sentence upon receiving a notice of appeal, or grant a new trial. Municipal courts also punish contempt, issue process, preserve order or summon and impanel jurors. Municipal Courts may issue all orders considered necessary before or following the passing of a judgment on a case. These orders may include arrest, attachment or garnishment, a receiver’s appointment for personal property, the aid of execution, and revivor of judgment.
County Courts, quite similar to Municipal Courts, function in counties outside the territorial jurisdictions of the state's Municipal Courts. They are courts of limited jurisdiction and, as such, only hear a limited number of civil and criminal matters within their jurisdiction. County Courts hear civil cases with claims not more than $15,000. Cases statutorily higher than the County Court jurisdiction are transferred directly to the Court of Common Pleas. Ohio County Courts share some jurisdiction with Mayor's Courts. According to Chapter 4521 of the Ohio Revised Code, County Courts also have appellate jurisdiction over appeals or default rulings for local, noncriminal parking infractions.
Mayor’s Courts are not under the Supreme Court’s supervision but have the authority to hear minor cases, especially cases not punishable by jail time, such as some parking violations, minor misdemeanors, violations of municipal ordinances, etc. Mayor’s Courts do not hold jury trials; hence cases that require jury trials are transferred to a Municipal Court or a County Court. Mayor’s Courts have no judges.