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What are Alaska Civil Court Records?
Alaska civil court records are legal documents containing information pertaining to the legal processes of the state’s civil courts. They typically provide an account of the litigation procedures of non-criminal matters. The information featured in these records include details of motions, briefs, orders, opinion dockets, sworn affidavit, witness testimonies, trial transcripts, final dispositions, and other related information recorded in paper or in electronic format. Pursuant to the Rule of Court Administration (37.5), civil court records are considered public records unless otherwise exempted by statute or court rule. As such, interested members of the public may find Alaska civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard.
Cases Heard by Alaska Civil Courts
The Alaska State Judiciary handles a wide array of cases within the state’s jurisdiction. The courts are organized into various divisions, each handling specific cases in varying jurisdictions. The civil divisions of the court are tasked with hearing cases that are non-criminal in nature such as breach of contract cases, disputes involving negligence that lead to injury or death, personal injury claims, libels and slanders, property condemnation disputes, employment matters, defamation cases, family-related cases as well as other cases threatening the peaceful co-existence between people and organizations. Most civil disputes are heard in an open setting, that is, a hearing that any willing member of the public may attend.
Who can access Civil Court Records in the State of Alaska?
The Alaska Rule of Court Administration furnishes the public with the right to access civil court records managed at various levels by the state’s courts. All civil court records are considered to be public records unless otherwise defined by statute. Sealed or confidential court records are withheld from general perusal and only authorized persons such as the parties involved in the case, the assigned attorney, the sitting judge, and the court personnel (for case processing and record-keeping purposes only) are allowed access. Typically, civil court records are maintained in the district court where the case was handled. The clerk of the court serves as the official custodian of these records and dutifully releases them to willing individuals upon request.
What Information is Contained in an Alaska Civil Court Record?
The main aim of creating court records is to provide an account of the state judiciary while maximizing access to its records. Essentially, the information featured in a civil court record includes general case information as well as distinguishing details specific to a case; although notwithstanding the case specificities, most civil court records share similar characteristics such as:
- Biodata and personal information of parties involved (if applicable)
- Name(s) of the counsel to the record
- Names of the judge and division assigned to the case
- General case information including the court type, court location, case number, case type, case status
- Case filing date, appearances, and hearing schedules
- Specific events of the case (depending on the case type and consequent actions such as oral arguments, evidence, witness testimonies, court orders, etc)
- Claims and counterclaims by the plaintiff(s) and/or the defendant(s)
- Details of the financial summary report
- Information pertaining to dispositions and judgments including associated fines and damage awards
- Details of appellate court review along with additur or remittitur (if applicable)
Understanding The Alaska Civil Court System
The state of Alaska features a two-tiered judicial system composed of appellate and trial courts. These courts have varying hierarchical levels; each operating within their allocated jurisdiction. Primarily, limited powers of the courts are classified based on the level of judicial authority as follows:
- The Alaska Supreme Court
- Alaska Court of Appeals
- Alaska Superior Courts
- Alaska District Courts
- Alaska Magistrate Courts
The Alaska Supreme Court is the highest court of last resort in the state. It is tasked with the responsibility of reviewing civil cases appealed from the superior courts and administrative agencies. The Supreme Court review in the state has a special character of hearing oral arguments in the judicial district where the case was primarily handled by the trial court. As defined by the state constitution, the Supreme court is also responsible for delivering administrative duties and answering all questions of law in the state. In special instances, the court has original jurisdiction over primary cases that have not been heard at a lower court prior to the Supreme Court hearing.
The Alaska Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court that exercises jurisdiction over the majority of criminal appeals from cases tried at the lower courts. Essentially, appeals for civil cases are not within the court’s jurisdiction and as such must be heard by the Supreme Court above this level.
The Alaska Superior Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction over major civil and criminal matters. Divided into various judicial districts, the superior courts exercise appellate jurisdiction over civil cases originally tried at the district court. The courts also handle property, mental evaluation, and family-related cases in the state.
The Alaska District Courts are courts of limited authority over civil cases within the financial value of $100,000 per defendant. Also divided into four judicial districts, the district court judges hear some minor criminal and domestic-related cases within their jurisdiction. The small claims division of the district courts is presided in its own capacity by the magistrate judges. These magistrates handle most civil cases with a maximal monetary value of $10,000 ($20,000 the cases filed by the Department of Labor).
How to Find Civil Court Records in Alaska
In compliance with the Alaska Rule of Court administration, interested persons may view, and/or obtain copies of civil court records upon request except in cases where access is denied based on legal grounds. The law also states that the courts must ensure adequate accessibility to court records, protect individual privacy rights, as well as standard customer service provisions by the court personnel. Records may be accessed by:
- By making in-person requests to the court custodian
- By exploring the online resources maintained in the different court websites or in third-party aggregate sites
- By sending written mail-in requests to the appropriate court (plus email and fax)
How To Find Alaska Civil Court Records Online
The Alaska appellate and trial courts feature extensive online resources from which the public can remotely access civil court records over the internet. These online databases are managed in varying capacities in state-wide unified portals as well as in county managed repositories. As expected, the available information on the various online resources is considered public. Thus, sealed or confidential records are excluded. Essentially, the Alaska online tools and e-service platforms include:
- The Alaska Appellate Court Case Search Portal
- The Appellate Court Oral Argument Calendar
- Other appellate court resources (Slip Opinions and Memorandum Opinions)
- The Trial Court Case Search Portal
The Alaska Appellate Case Management System is a lookup case portal that allows inquirers to search by case number, party name, or attorney name. The case number-based search constitutes a more effective search and can be utilized using the appellate case number or trial case number. To successfully render a search using the party name, the inquirer is required to input the first and last name of any party to the case. Where the party to the case is an organization or agency, input the company name in the provided field. The case status and appellate court where the case was handled should also be determined and filled accurately. If not known, the requesting party is required to tick the “both” column of the selection box.
The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Oral Argument Calendars are updated to inform the public of oral argument schedules. These arguments are provided by the legal counsels of both the petitioner and defendant after which the case is formally presented for hearing. Oral arguments in the state are also broadcast on cable systems across the state.
Similar to the appellate case management system, the trial courts maintain a unified search portal where interested members of the public can search open and closed civil cases using the case number and party name. Users must include the full case number including dashes, alphabets, and numbers before a case-number-based search is adequately rendered. Essentially, the mandatory field to be completed before a search by party name is the last name, first name, and the business name of either party involved in the case. However, to limit the search yield, the requesting party may also include the middle name, suffix, case type, case status, party type, as well as search ranges for the date of birth, date of death, and filing date.
Additionally, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites*. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels
How To Access Alaska Civil Court Records in Person
Civil court records in the state of Alaska may also be accessed via in-person courthouse visits. In most cases, full case information, copies of court records and access to confidential records are usually available via in-person physical requests only. Hence, this channel of access constitutes the single most effective method of record appraisal. To adequately render a civil record request, the following steps are recommended:
Step 1: Find the Record Custodian
The court clerk is the records personnel responsible for generating, managing, and disseminating civil court records. Some of the factors that may affect the location of a court record include the status of the case, how long ago the case was closed, and local court storage guidelines. Most small claims civil cases involving $10,000 monetary and property value are typically handled at the district court (small claims division) and may be obtained from the clerk of the named court. Records of civil cases that are between $10,000 and $100,000 are also available at the district court clerk’s office while records of civil cases in excess of $100,000 are primarily kept by the clerk of the superior court. Essentially, records of district court cases appealed to the superior court are concurrently kept by both court custodians. In cases where the trial court decisions are reviewed and/or amended by the Supreme Court, the updated records may also be accessed from the appellate court clerk.
Step 2: Gather All Relevant Information
After ascertaining the location of the record of interest, the requesting party may then proceed to gather relevant information to the case. This step is especially important to limit the case search, promote efficiency, and also save time and resources. In most cases, the court clerk may have mandatory and optional record retrieval guidelines. As such, the requesting party may consult the district or superior court directories for queries and appointment schedules. Essentially, the case information required for inspecting civil court records in the state of Alaska includes the case number, party names, attorney name, case status, approximate filing date, approximate judgment date, the appellate case number (if applicable). Additionally, some clerks may provide e-Forms or physical request forms to facilitate the process.
Step 3: Provide Identification & Fee Requirements
Generally, requesters are required to provide the estimated costs of search and/or copies before a record request is processed by the court custodian. In cases where the case number is not provided, the clerk of court charges a $30 hourly labor fee. If copies are also requested, the clerk charges $5 for the first page and $3 for each additional page. Certified copies cost $10 for the first document and $3 for each additional certified copy of the same document ordered at the same time. Also, exemplified or authenticated copies of a court record have an attached fee of $15 per document. The payment method is usually by cash, check, money order, or credit. Furthermore, depending on the record of interest, the clerk may request the provision of a valid government-issued photo ID.
Step 4: Make the Request
During normal business days and hours, requesters are required to visit the office of the record custodians with the information detailed in the first three steps. Where applicable, an appointment schedule is recommended to save time. Most courthouses provide self-help terminals where the record of interest may be viewed and inspected by the requester at no cost. If the record is not available on the terminal, chances are that the record is confidential, the case is old, or that the requester is looking at the wrong courthouse. The information featured in the public terminals is general case information and if specific details and/or copies are needed, a record request form should be filed and necessary fees paid for a court custodian promoted search.
How To Obtain Alaska Civil Court Records via Mail, Email, or Fax
Civil court records in the state of Alaska can also be obtained by mail-in requests to the record custodian upon locating the courthouse where the case was filed. To request a civil court record via mail, the requestor is required to complete and send the applicable request form to the court as follows:
- Court Record Request Form ANCH (Point)
- Court Record Request Form FBKS (Fairbanks)
- Court Record Request Form PA (Palmers)
- Court Record Request Form (Other Locations)
A properly filled request form must indicate relevant details of the case such as the full name of the parties involved in the civil suit, the case name (person vs person), the case number, as well as the personal and contact information of the requestor. Fulfillment of the applicable fees may be required before a mail-in request is processed by the court custodian. A government-issued photo ID, a self stamped return envelope, and a check or money order may also be required.
Similarly, the completed forms may also be mailed or faxed to the address outlined in the form. Generally, requestors are advised to contact the courthouse before exploring any of these channels.
Are All Alaska Civil Court Records Online?
The state of Alaska developed an extensive court case search database. Presently, all four judicial districts are part of the unified court case system. The featured information includes the appellate and trial case search database, the oral argument schedule and archived video viewing, as well as the opinions and memorandum opinion. The court also offers online services such as e-filing and online payment services. However, the information featured on these databases is limited to the general case information. Full case information including sensitive and confidential information is not available for online viewing and inspection. Typically, the information classified as sensitive is personal and financial information that may threaten the security and privacy of the parties to the case if released to the public. As such, they are automatically sealed and only available to authorized parties. Furthermore, no matter the degree of authorization, confidential and sealed records are not available from online resources and must only be obtained by in-person physical visits to the courthouse. Summarily, the information available online include:
- Case details—date, trial outcome, nature of the case, name of the presiding judge
- Biodata of the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) as well as any associated attorneys (if available)
- Financial summary information including all fees paid as regards to the case
- A detailed register of actions featuring all actions prior to, during, and after the case is closed (if available)
How to Access Sealed Court Records in Alaska
Some statutorily authorized persons such as the parties to the record, the counsel of record, the judge, and the court personnel (in strict conditions) are allowed access to sealed records in Alaska. However, members of the public with tangible reasons for requesting access are required to petition the court for a subpoena or court order allowing the petitioner access to the record of interest for a stipulated time period. Where the reason for access does not outweigh the need to keep the records sealed, the petition may be denied. In either case, the requestor may require legal advice and/or assistance.
Are there Public Records of Alternative Dispute Resolutions in Alaska?
Pursuant to the District of Alaska Local Rule 16.2, persons in a civil dispute may opt for settlement via alternative dispute resolutions (ADR). This refers to confidential dispute resolution procedures by mediation, neutral evaluation, or arbitration other than adjudication by a court trial. In most cases, the court may order mediation upon request by either party or on the court’s order. The mediator is usually a private neutral person agreed upon by the parties or a magistrate (not assigned to the case). ADR constitutes a cheap and confidential alternative to litigation processes and as such, is not readily available for public inspection. However, these records may be released if all parties and the mediator consent. Essentially, ADR records are not admissible in court and disclosure may be notarized in special cases where the documents are subpoenaed.
How Can I Have My Court Fee Waived in Alaska?
Usually, all applicable fees must be paid for a case action to be filed or records obtained in the state of Alaska. The court processing fees are uniform in most counties in the state. Persons unable to afford the cost of filing and obtaining court records may complete and submit the Exemption From the Payment of Fees Form sworn under the penalty of perjury to the district or superior court of residence. The judge consequently grants or denies the petition based on evidence of facts presented in the form. Generally, qualified persons for a fee waiver include persons receiving public benefits, unemployed persons, physically displaced persons, among others. Because this guide is not intended to constitute legal advice, inquirers are advised to seek legal advice/assistance (recommended: from pro bono lawyers) prior to form completion.