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What is a Court Docket?

Mary McMahon
Updated: Feb 20, 2024

A court docket is a list of all of the cases awaiting action in a court of law. Depending on the court, it is not uncommon for a large majority of the cases placed on the docket to never actually make it into court; they may be withdrawn for a variety of reasons, ranging from reaching an out of court settlement to needing to refile in light of new evidence. Most courts make their dockets available to the public, although sometimes it can be difficult to access docket records.

Historically, the docket was a literal object. The clerk of the court kept a large folio known as a docket in which information about the court was recorded. The court docket included not only lists of pending actions, but also the outcomes of trials, and detailed discussions of motions filed and other matters which appeared in court. In some areas of the world, folios are still in use, but more commonly, electronic systems are used to manage the court docket.

People sometimes use the word “docket” to refer to schedule, and a docket can include information about when a hearing is scheduled, and specific days when the court will be open. It is also possible to look up the court docket for a particular case to access detailed information about the case, including records of motions filed and other actions taken in relation to the case. It is the responsibility of the clerk of the court to keep this information accurate and current.

To get on the court docket, a filing fee usually needs to be paid, and documents pertaining to the case must be filed. In some courts, such as the Supreme Court of the United States, applications to appear in court outnumber the available slots for appearances. In these courts, the judges decide which cases to try. In lower courts, where everyone's right to appear in court is protected, a backlog of cases can mean that it takes months or years for a case to reach trial.

Several online databases provide docketing information. Some nations are better than others when it comes to getting information online. Such systems usually have search functions which allow people to look up specific cases or subjects, and some may display archival records pertaining to historic cases of interest. For information about a specific court, it is sometimes better to contact the clerk of the court directly to get the needed data.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By KLR650 — On Jun 30, 2011

@winslo2004 - It's not just the civil docket. You can search criminal histories in most states now, too. I used to do it on all of my students when I taught adult vocational classes. It's unbelievable who is in the same room with you sometimes.

Actually, even though I used the tool I find it kind of eerie that there is so much info floating around on everybody. Makes you wonder whether they should rein some of it in at some point.

By winslo2004 — On Jun 29, 2011

@MaPa - I use Pacer too, and also sometime my state court web site. It is amazing how much information is available on people without ever having to get out of your chair.

I had a nosy neighbor once who found out you could search the bankruptcy court docket online, back when all of the buzz was going on a few years ago when the law changed, and she signed herself up for an account and used it to snoop around and see if her friends or family were in there.

By MaPa — On Jun 28, 2011

The federal court docket in the United States is very easy to search. They have an electronic system called Pacer, which I believe stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records or something close to it. As a lawyer, I use it all the time to search for cases, and it is very easy to use.

Other court dockets can be a real pain, depending on how organized they are. Some states have their information online, and more are doing it all the time, so it should get easier. Until then, that's what clerks are for, I guess.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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