Civil Files In civil cases, the key document is usually the lawsuit, called “the Complaint” or “Petition.” In essence, the Complaint lays out the heart of the case, although it does so in very legalistic and often antiquated language. Always remember these are allegations, not proven facts. The Complaint will include the names and addresses of the parties in the case: the person or entity bringing the case is “the Plaintiff” or “Petitioner” and the person or entity against whom the case is brought is the “Defendant” or “Respondent.” Many people hire lawyers, so the plaintiff’s attorney’s name and contact information will be in there, too. From the “Answer” to the Complaint or any motions, you will get the name of the defendant’s attorney and, possibly, the theory of the defense. The file may also contain cross-claims, counter-claims or third-party claims in which some of the parties to the original case sue other parties already in the case or others who are not yet in it. Divorce files, located in Circuit Courts, often contain vast amounts of financial and personal information. The file will also contain notices of service that various documents were mailed from one party to the other. It should also include a notice stating the date, time and location of any pending hearings, a court order relating to any hearings already held, and a scheduling order setting forth various deadlines and the date of the settlement conference and trial, if the case doesn’t settle. Motions filed in the case can normally be found in the court file. Often, these are technical in nature but may be important, so they should be reviewed carefully. Be sure to see if the motion has been ruled upon. If so, a copy of the ruling should be in the file. Juvenile Cases The rules on juvenile cases have significantly changed. See the chapter on Juvenile Court. Exhibits Once entered into evidence, exhibits normally become public. However, sensitive information may require the court’s permission before it can be reproduced. These may include autopsy reports, photos, audio of wiretapped conversations, and anything else a jury is allowed to review in making its decision.
Lists of the jurors selected to hear a trial also are only made part of the public file in very limited circumstances.
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