Santa Clara County Superior Court – Old Courthouse
Physical: 161 North 1st Street
San Jose, CA 95113
Mailing: 191 North 1st Street
San Jose, CA 95113
Location and Hours
The Santa Clara County Superior Court – Old Courthouse building is located at 191 N. First Street in downtown San Jose, California. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. The courthouse is closed on weekends and major holidays.
Visitors can attend court proceedings on open court dates or access records through the courthouse’s civil division. Security screenings are required for entry.
Santa Clara County Superior Court System
For most Americans, other than when we go to a public school, our most direct and meaningful interaction with the government happens in the court system. Most of us don’t get to visit the Oval Office, the governor’s mansion or even the mayor’s office. But in court, we come face-to-face with government officials, and a system that can — and will — make an immediate and significant impact on our lives.
For Santa Clara County residents, the local Superior Court system will most often be the first point of contact. But even before you get into a courtroom, the system can be confusing, and intimidating.
But don’t let that get to you — courts are designed that way. When you walk into a courtroom, you’re supposed to feel the importance and solemn nature of the place and more importantly, of the judicial system. In reality the court system in Santa Clara County, or anywhere, is a flawed machine that is often geared toward churning out justice on an assembly line, and only rarely resembles the made-for-TV version as seen on Law and Order. Here’s a basic introduction to, and explanation of Santa Clara County Superior Court system, what it is, and how it works.
A Long History
First, some history — and the Santa Clara courts have a lengthy one. Nearly a half-century before California became a state — and Santa Clara became a county — the region’s local court opened in a building located at what since became the corner of downtown San Jose’s Market and Post Streets. The court building, which also housed the San Jose mayor’s office as well as the local jail, operated there from 1805 until the demand for court services outsripped its capacity, and it was torn down in July of 1850, two months before California became the 31st state in the union.
Santa Clara County was formed a year later. The county court cycled through eight buildings until settling on what is now called Old Courthouse, also in downtown San Jose, at an address now numbered as 161 North First Street.
The Old Courthouse was the site where Clara Foltz, the first woman ever to legally practice law in California, argued her cases. It was also the site of the historic case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company which produced the rather dubious landmark ruling that corporations have the same rights as people — a precedent which continues to exert a powerful, if not exactly salubrious, influence over American society, politics and law today.
Today, the Old Courthouse remains busy, with dozens of criminal and civil cases heard there every day (though its functions have been extremely limited during the coronavirus crisis). But the historic building is now one of eight courthouses in the Santa Clara Superior Court system.
The Modern Court System
Others include Downtown Superior Court, located nearby the Old Courthouse at 191 North First Street, where the county’s small claims court is located. The newer building also sees civil and probate matters in its courtrooms.
Family court for Santa Clara County, along with the county’s drug court, is also nearby, at 201 North First Street, in the Family Justice Center Building. The Juvenile Justice building sits at 840 Guadalupe Parkway in San Jose, while traffic court is located in the Santa Clara Courthouse on Homestead Road in Santa Clara.
Palo Alto and Morgan Hill also have their own courthouses, handling criminal cases.
There are 77 judges spread among the eight courthouses, currently led by Presiding Judge Theodore C. Zayner who was first appointed to the bench in 2009 by Governor Arnold Schwarznegger. Zayner began his two-year term as presiding judge on January 1, 2021.
Under California law, the governor can appoint judges to fill vacancies on county courts, but those judges must then run in the next election to hold on to their seats. Of the current crop of Santa Clara County judges, only 11 initially won their seats by election, with most of the remainder being appointed by six different governors, going back to Gray Davis.
The Reasons You May End Up in Court
There are two main reasons why you would end up in front of one of those judges: you’re mixed up in a civil case — in other words, a lawsuit — or you are facing criminal charges.
In the latter case, unless you are accused of a crime, you won’t have any reason to visit the Santa Clara County Superior Courts. But lawsuits are a different matter and in many significant ways much more complicated.
Why would you file a lawsuit? The simplest reason is — you’ve been done wrong. Generally, lawsuits involve a violation of your legal rights, rather than actual crimes. Maybe you believe someone with whom you were in business broke a contract. Or perhaps you slipped and fell at a grocery store because the floor was too slick. Perhaps someone lied about you behind your back, so you want to sue for slander. The reasons for filing lawsuits are as limitless as your rights to binding contracts, personal safety, an unsullied reputation, and so on.
But suffering a wrong, or perceived wrong, is only the start of the process that could lead you into a courtroom. You have to decide who to sue, and if you have a reasonable chance of winning the lawsuit. But most importantly, you must decide where and which type of court is right for your lawsuit. This is called “jurisdiction,” and if you file in the wrong jurisdiction, your lawsuit will simply be thrown out, regardless of whether your claim is justified or not.
In the most basic terms, you have to file in the right place. If a business associate broke a contract that was signed in Santa Cruz, and you file suit in Santa Clara County, your suit will be tossed, and you’ll be forced to start all over again.
Of course, there are several other reasons that could land you in court outside of lawsuits and criminal cases. Santa Clara County probate courts, for example, handle a wide range of family and financial matters from distributing the property of dead people, to appointing guardians for children whose parents for whatever reason can’t do the job — or for adults who are impaired by age, mental illness, or some other incapacitating factor.
Small claims court in Santa Clara County handles civil cases in which the money involved comes in at less than $10,000. The whole purpose is to make resolving these “small claims” cheap and relatively quick. As anyone who has watched Judge Judy understands, lawyers are banned from Small Claims Court. The plaintiff (that is, the person who is suing) and defendant (the one being sued) must stand in front of a judge and make their own arguments.
Juvenile Court, in the Family Justice Center, handles criminal cases for defendants under 18 years old. But cases of child abuse and negkectalso go through the Juvenile Court system.
Santa Clara County Superior Court – Old Courthouse Online Court Resources
While all of these various types of cases can be disconcerting and confusing, to say the least, the Santa Clara County Superior Court website makes the process much simpler and less cumbersome than it was in the pre-internet era.
The court’s online Self Help Center allows county residents to file required forms in cases ranging from divorce to child custody, unlawful eviction and even a simple change of legal address — all from the comfort of a computer. The website also includes detailed information on how to proceed if you have been charged with a crime, need to fight a traffic ticket, or file a small claims suit, among numerous other legal functions.
The court offers many online services and resources for access to court records, calendars, forms, and fine or fee payments.
Search Court Records
Court records such as civil, criminal, and traffic case indexes and case files can be searched online through the court’s website. Dockets and calendars are also available to search by case number, party name, attorney name, date, and other criteria.
Dockets, Calendars and Case Information
Civil, criminal, traffic, and other court calendars and dockets can be viewed online. The court posts tentative rulings for civil law and motion hearings. Published opinions and orders from the court are available.
Opinions and Orders
Legal opinions issued by the California Attorney General can be searched online back to 1985. The court’s local rules are posted and can be referenced.
Santa Clara County Superior Court – Old Courthouse Forms
Many court forms used for civil, family, probate, and other case types can be downloaded from the court’s website. Additional judicial branch forms are available, along with interactive online forms that can be completed with guided questions before printing and filing.
Online Fine Payments
Individuals can pay traffic tickets and fines for the Santa Clara County Superior Court online through available payment portals. Parking tickets for various local cities can also be paid online.
Self-Help and Legal Research Resources
The court provides extensive information and resources for self-represented parties on its website. There are also links to other general legal information sources.
Court Information and Procedures
Details about court procedures, overviews of major case types, court rules, and specifics for cases like probate, traffic, and small claims are provided. The court’s self-help center assists self-represented parties.
General Legal Information
Links to resources on California law, court rules, legal research, and commonly used legal terms are included on the website. Additional self-help sites provide information on issues like small claims, housing, family law, and more.
The court provides specifics on options for handling traffic tickets, traffic school, payments, and records. Lists and links to approved traffic schools are available. The DMV site offers additional traffic-related resources.
Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral Services
Contact information and descriptions of legal aid organizations and lawyer referral services in Santa Clara County assist those seeking legal help.
Legal Aid Organizations
Several nonprofit legal aid groups provide free civil legal services to qualifying low-income residents of the county and surrounding areas. Their contact information, services, and eligibility criteria are outlined.
Lawyer Referral and Complaints
The Santa Clara County Bar Association offers an affordable lawyer referral service. The State Bar of California provides tips on finding and hiring lawyers as well as filing complaints. Discipline records can also be searched.
FAQs about the Santa Clara County Superior Court – Old Courthouse
- What types of cases are heard at the Old Courthouse?The Old Courthouse hears civil cases like small claims and lawsuits. It also hears misdemeanor criminal cases and traffic cases. Other criminal, family, probate, and juvenile cases are heard at other Santa Clara County courthouses.
- Can I search court records online for the Old Courthouse?Yes, you can search civil, criminal, and traffic case indexes and dockets on the Santa Clara County Superior Court website. Calendars can also be searched online.
- How do I know if my hearing is at the Old Courthouse?Check your hearing notice for the address and department number. You can also call the court clerk to confirm the location. The Old Courthouse address is 161 N. 1st Street, San Jose, CA 95113.
- Are there self-help services at the Old Courthouse?The court’s Self-Help Centers are located at other courthouses, but the website has extensive information to assist self-represented parties, arranged by case type.
- Can traffic tickets be paid online for cases at the Old Courthouse?Yes, traffic tickets issued by the Santa Clara County Superior Court can be paid online through available payment portals on the court’s website.
- How can I get legal aid for a civil case filed at the Old Courthouse?Contact local legal aid organizations like Bay Area Legal Aid which offer free civil legal services in Santa Clara County to qualifying low-income residents.
- Is there a lawyer referral service for the Old Courthouse?Yes, the Santa Clara County Bar Association offers an affordable lawyer referral service by phone or online request.
- Where can I file a complaint about a lawyer for a case at the Old Courthouse?The State Bar of California provides information on its website about filing complaints against attorneys along with an online complaint form.
- Are jury trials held at the Old Courthouse?Yes, the Old Courthouse has courtrooms and facilities for jury trials for certain civil and criminal cases heard at that location.
- What are the main online resources for the Old Courthouse?The Santa Clara County Superior Court website provides online services like case records, calendars, forms, fine payments as well as extensive legal information and resources.