When people think about the court system and specifically the cases that are filed in them, they may think of mountains of paperwork. The perception that anything in the court systems requires massive amounts of paperwork is not far from the truth. Essentially anything that is done in the court is done by way of documents that are prepared and filed. Even a simple small claims case, which is typically done in less than 2 months, can quickly have hundreds of pages of filed documents. More complex civil case can easily require their own filing cabinets to stay organized.
While many court systems in California are moving to a paper free policy, meaning documents are mostly digital, there are still forests being decimated to keep up with the need for legal professionals to move cases through their local courts. The new trend in digital document filing is taking off, but the problem of adoption is going to take a while as courts implement systems and acquire new technology to meet the needs of these new procedures. Certain courts however are already requiring an all-digital environment, example being Orange County, California. This means documents are prepared and signed digitally by attorneys and petitioners, uploaded and submitted digitally to the court and then filed copies returned in pdf formats. The benefits are that the courts can reduce their workflow at their filing windows and reduce the costs and manpower required for storing and organizing these files. Best of all, in many courts, after documents are filed, they have to be manually scanned to become a digital copy available for court staff and the public. With these new systems, documents are instantly available in digital form in the court system.
However, with the implementation of this new technology, there is still a need for physical copies of documents when a person requires a “Certified Copy”. A certified copy is a document in the court system, that someone needs a copy of, and requires the court staff place a special seal on it to confirm its authenticity. Certified copies are needed for all types of transactions outside of the court system. These certified copies provide proof to anyone about the current standing or disposition of a court case. An example would be a name change decree. In a name change process, the Judge will issue a decree (order) changing someone’s name. This order can be used at DMV, Social Security Administration and more to obtain new updated identifications. These agencies will want to be sure that the decree is valid and accurate, rather than something that someone made and printed on their home computer, and a certified copy does just that. Simply put, a certified copy confirms that this document is originally from the court and the contents on the document are an official record of the court.
When a person needs a certified copy they can visit the court clerk. In some counties, documents can be found online, and a certified copy can be requested and paid for online which will then be mailed to the requester. The document must come from the court system, meaning you cannot take your own copy and receive a certified stamp. Again, this is to avoid any modifications on documents before the court certifies them. In person, the court staff can typically certify documents on the spot. When you order online a court clerk will print, certify and mail copies by USPS mail. Usually you will have the copy within a week and this option is great for people who may have moved away from the court their case was filed in.
Lastly, certified copies are not free. First you will pay for the copies of the documents you need. The average in California is about $0.50-$1.50 per page, and then a certification fee, which could be right about $25-$30. If you have a fee waiver on file though, your certified copies are at no costs.