We get the question all the time, "Why is my court case on the Internet and how do I get it removed?" There are a number of reasons why your case might be online and several ways we can help remove it for you.
A typical small claims court case in the state of California is resolved in about 40 days, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs. A case handled in a federal district court can take much longer, but a study from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System suggests that two-thirds of these cases are resolved in about a year's time.
There are times, however, when the impact of a court case continues for much longer than a year. In fact, some court cases can keep harming your reputation, your mental health and your pocketbook for years after the judge's gavel comes down. Some people are finding that out firsthand, because their court cases are appearing online. Every time someone searches for their name, documents about their legal woes appear.
Is this happening to you?
Why Your Case is Online
1. A newspaper mentioned the case.
Court cases come with juicy news tidbits. If you're involved in a nasty dispute with a landlord or if your business is falling apart, that's the sort of story that can make a reporter drool. And that reporter's editor might push for a full publication of all of the court documents involved with the case. It's just good business sense, and newspapers need that right now.
The Pew Research Center suggests that advertising revenues are on the decline, reaching only $22,314 in 2012. In 2006, by comparison, revenues were $49,275. Newspapers need to stop that slide, and that means they need to publish stories people want to read. Court cases can fit the bill. A newspaper might simply discuss your case and all of the parties involved. That article could do a great deal of damage to your reputation. But that damage can be compounded, too, if the paper decides to publish the court documents themselves. The paper might print excerpts in a print edition, and then put full copies online behind a paywall. All of that online data could show right up on a search.
2. An aggregate site found and published your data.
While a local newspaper might want to publish the juicy bits about a community dispute, hoping to spark the interest of others who live nearby, aggregate sites might have a completely different motivation involved, when they print your data. For companies like this, the idea is to amass as much information about as many cases as possible, and you could quickly get caught up in that net. Sites like Public.Resource.org are interested in making legal cases accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The organizers of this site don't seem particularly interested in harming people specifically. That's not what they're trying to do.
Instead, they're hoping to make it easier for people involved in future cases to defend against their claims. Think of it this way: If you're part of a court case, a jury or a lawyer will look through the published accounts of cases like yours in order to find a legal precedent for one ruling or another. That kind of work is much harder to do if all rulings are locked down and private. By making rulings public, legal officials hope to make these searches easier. But even though these sites may have noble purposes, they can still do a great deal of damage to your reputation, particularly if the case documents have personal information in them that puts you in an unflattering light.
3. An enemy or a competitor purchased and published the data.
While aggregate sites may not want to cause you harm, your enemies and/or competitors sure might. And it's easy enough for them to head to a local website to find and purchase documents about your case. In King County, Washington, for example, anyone can buy documents about adult criminal cases, civil cases and probate cases for $5 per report.
In Alexandria, Virginia, people can pay a $50 monthly fee and download all sorts of civil case documents. It might seem terrible that anyone can download these things, but most court systems take no responsibility for what happens to the documentation once it's been downloaded.
In Franklin County, Ohio, for example, a web page for the clerk of courts explicitly states that the courts will not be responsible for any direct or indirect damages or loss of profits that come from the data available online. That kind of disclaimer gives your enemies an opportunity to find and publish your court documents on blogs, on social media sites and on commercial sites.
They can do it, and chances are, they will.
We Can Help
If your personal and private information is showing up in public places, we can help. In fact, we have a comprehensive product that can clean up law records that appear in both personal and public web spaces. We've helped thousands of people clean up their records, and we can help you, too. Just contact us, and we'll tell you more about how it works and what you'll need to do to get started.