Santa Clara County Superior Court – Palo Alto Courthouse
The Santa Clara County Superior Court has multiple courthouse locations that serve the residents of Santa Clara County, California. One of these courthouses is the Palo Alto Courthouse located at 270 Grant Avenue in Palo Alto. This courthouse focuses on handling criminal case proceedings. Understanding the resources available through the Palo Alto Courthouse and Santa Clara County Superior Court system can make navigating the court process easier.
Overview of the Santa Clara County Superior Court – Palo Alto Courthouse
The Palo Alto Courthouse, located in downtown Palo Alto, is one of many courthouse locations of the Superior Court of Santa Clara County. This courthouse specializes in criminal court cases for northern Santa Clara County. Both felony and misdemeanor criminal cases are heard at the courthouse. Some resources specific to this courthouse include:
Location and Contact Information
The Palo Alto Courthouse provides services related to criminal cases such as:
- Felony arraignments, preliminary hearings, and trials
- Misdemeanor arraignments, pretrial hearings, trials, and sentencings
- Traffic and minor offense arraignments and trials
- Restraining order hearings
- Drug treatment and other specialty courts
History and background
The Palo Alto Courthouse has a long history in the community. The original courthouse was built in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration project. After many decades of use, the old courthouse was demolished in 2003 to make way for a new modern facility. The current courthouse building opened in 2006 after three years of construction. It was designed by the architectural firm Reid & Tarics and built by Turner Construction company. The total cost was $23.4 million.
Courthouse facilities and services
The Palo Alto Courthouse houses 13 courtrooms along with administrative office space on its four floors. There are separate secured halls and entrances for criminal and civil proceedings. The courthouse offers a range of services including self-help centers, domestic violence and family law resources, a law library, and family court services such as mediation. Security operations and holding cells for in-custody defendants are managed by the Sheriff’s Office on-site. There is also a multi-service center for traffic ticket and payment matters.
Types of cases heard
As a superior courthouse, the Palo Alto facility adjudicates matters falling under state law. This includes criminal cases such as misdemeanors and felonies, as well as civil lawsuits with more than $25,000 in dispute. Family and probate cases are also heard, covering divorce, child custody, guardianship, conservatorship, and estate matters. Traffic infractions can be resolved here too. Cases get assigned to Palo Alto from across Santa Clara County based on the region they originated from and type of case.
Judges and staff
There are around 10 superior court judges permanently stationed at the Palo Alto Courthouse. However, judges from elsewhere in the county will also periodically hear cases in Palo Alto courtrooms when needing to travel. In addition to judges, the courthouse is staffed by courtroom clerks, court reporters, officers of the court, family court mediators, and other administrative personnel. The courthouse also houses offices for the County Probation Department, District Attorney, and Health and Human Services Agency.
Accessibility and public transit options
The Palo Alto Courthouse was designed to be accessible for all. There are ramps, elevators, and automatic doors throughout the building. Those with disabilities can request accommodations like sign language interpreters. All courtrooms have assisted listening devices. The courthouse is located downtown near the Palo Alto Transit Center, allowing visitors to get there via regional train and multiple bus routes. Bike racks are also available. Limited metered street parking can be found nearby.
Going to Court at the Palo Alto Courthouse
Checking in and security screening
All visitors to the Palo Alto Courthouse must pass through a security checkpoint upon entering. Be prepared to walk through a metal detector, send bags/items through x-ray screening, and follow instructions from sheriff’s deputies. No weapons are allowed. Take care to remove prohibited items from pockets before screening. You may bring cell phones or laptops, but usage may be restricted in courtrooms. Photo ID is required. Give yourself extra time to check in, especially on busy days.
Locating your courtroom or hearing room
After checking in, find your assigned courtroom or hearing room number on your paperwork so you head to the right place. Match the room number to wall directories showing courtroom locations. Each courtroom may have unique entry protocols, so look for posted guidance. If you get lost or need help finding your room, ask an information desk or sheriff’s deputy for directions. Arrive early so you can locate your room without rushing.
Courtroom etiquette and behavior
Inside Santa Clara County courtrooms, formal etiquette is mandatory. Dress appropriately and don’t bring food/drink unless permitted for medical reasons. Turn off or silence electronic devices as usage may be prohibited. Stand when the judge enters and exits the room. Address the judge as “Your Honor.” Avoid interrupting others – let the judge guide discussions. Keep answers brief and factual. Disruptive conduct like shouting is not allowed. Be polite to court staff, attorneys, witnesses, and the judge.
What to expect during your hearing
The judge will manage the overall court process and proceedings during your case or trial. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. Stand when speaking to the judge unless excused. Attorneys will present arguments and question witnesses. The judge may ask you or other parties questions directly. You will have chances to respond if representing yourself. Exhibits may be shown. Raise procedural concerns with the judge politely. Understand that hearings may take hours depending on the case.
Resources and Information for Visitors
Website and online services
Santa Clara County Superior Court maintains a website at sccscourt.org with helpful information. Here you can find court calendars, filing fees, forms, self-help guides, and contact info. Certain services like payment of fees or fines and document submission can be done online. Case records can also be searched or reviewed electronically for some case types. The website offers guidance on legal processes for the public.
Help centers and information desks
The courthouse has an information desk in the lobby along with self-help centers onsite. These assist the public with understanding court procedures, finding services, filling out paperwork, accessing records, and more. Court clerks may also be able to answer basic questions about processes. Look for help centers and signs to point you in the right direction. Staff will guide you through required steps.
Contact information for departments
To get information directly from court administrators and departments, contact details are available on the courthouse website or through the help centers. Call or email court records, accounting, family court services, traffic, and other departments with specific questions. Contact information for the jury commissioner, court reporters, and alternative dispute resolution program is also provided. The court’s main phone number can route you to appropriate offices.
Online Court Resources
In addition to courthouse-specific resources, the Santa Clara County Superior Court system offers many online services and resources:
Searching Court Records
Dockets, Calendars, and Case Information
- Search civil, criminal, traffic, and local ordinance calendars and case records
- View civil court schedule by case type and court department
- Check available civil law and motion/discovery calendar dates
Published Opinions and Orders
Forms and Related Information
- Get Santa Clara County Superior Court forms
- Request records from the CA Administrative Office of the Courts
- File an attorney complaint
- Access California state court forms
- Use interactive online forms from TurboCourt (fee)
Online Fine Payments
The court allows online payment of fines for:
- City of Mountain View parking tickets (fee)
- City of Palo Alto parking tickets
- City of San Jose parking tickets (fee may apply)
- City of Cupertino parking tickets and appeals (fee)
- Santa Clara County Superior Court traffic tickets and traffic school fees (fee)
Self-Help and Legal Resources
The court provides many self-help and legal resources, both court-specific and statewide:
- Juvenile case info for Santa Clara County
- Santa Clara County Law Library
- Santa Clara County mediation services
- Santa Clara County Superior Court alternative dispute resolution
- Probate case info for Santa Clara County
- Santa Clara County Superior Court local rules
- Santa Clara County Superior Court self-help center
- Small claims info for Santa Clara County
- Traffic case info for Santa Clara County
- Overview of alternative dispute resolution
- California court rules
- CA Courts self-help information
- CA Courts small claims information
- CA Courts probate information
- List of CA county law libraries
- Search for CA Legal Document Assistants
- Search CA codes
- California child support services
- California foreclosure prevention resources
- LawHelpCA legal information
- California legal research information
- California legal research links
- Ask a law librarian service
- Search for CA traffic schools
- CA DMV traffic and vehicle info
Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral
Those needing legal assistance can use local and statewide services:
Santa Clara County Resources
- Lawyer referral service (fee)
- Search public directory of Santa Clara County lawyers
- Santa Clara County legal assistance programs
- Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office
- Bay Area Legal Aid
- Search records of CA Bar members
- California Rural Legal Assistance
- Find a CA lawyer or file an attorney complaint
- Search court interpreters
- California legal services information
- LawHelpCA directory of free/low-cost legal services
- Limited-scope representation
Notable Trials and Cases at the Palo Alto Courthouse
High-profile criminal cases
The Palo Alto Courthouse has handled many high-visibility criminal cases over the years. These include embezzlement trials related to Stanford University, and cases involving celebrities like Kristine Johnson and Oscar Delahoya facing charges in Palo Alto. The courthouse conducted trial proceedings after a 2018 police standoff at Stanford Shopping Center. Other notable cases covered murders, sexual assaults, and juvenile crimes occurring within the courthouse’s jurisdiction.
Major civil lawsuits
For large civil lawsuits originating in its region, the Palo Alto Courthouse serves as the venue for trial proceedings. In the 1990s, it hosted a major gender discrimination lawsuit against local company Varian Associates. More recently, intellectual property lawsuits between tech firms have played out in the courthouse, along with liability cases related to accidents in Palo Alto. The courthouse also frequently handles zoning disputes for the city government and Stanford.
Judges at the courthouse have shaped the law through key decisions in certain cases. In a 2013 case, a judge upheld Palo Alto’s right to restrict medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. Another major Palo Alto zoning case in the 1990s established guidance for residential occupancy limits that influenced other cities. The courthouse also impacts criminal justice through sentencing decisions and verdicts that at times set precedents for Santa Clara County.
The Santa Clara County Superior Court – Palo Alto Courthouse provides critical access to justice for the region. Its design, history, and operations reflect the community it serves. For visitors and those going to court here, understanding the courthouse’s services, layout, and procedures makes navigating cases easier. With knowledgeable staff and engaged judges, the courthouse strives to conduct fair proceedings and strengthen the legal system. It will continue playing a key civic role into the future.
What are the courthouse hours?
The courthouse is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Some courtrooms may close earlier in the day after concluding their calendars. The courthouse is closed on weekends and designated holidays.
Can I bring my cell phone/camera?
Cell phones are allowed, but must be silenced. Phone calls generally need to be taken outside of courtrooms. Cameras are prohibited without advance permission from the court.
Where can I park near the courthouse?
Metered street parking is available on streets near the courthouse but is very limited. Nearby public parking garages are the best option. Be sure to give yourself extra time to find parking. Arriving via public transit can be easier.
What kind of security screening is done?
Be prepared to walk through a metal detector and have any bags/items x-rayed. Banned items like knives, pepper spray, or tazers will be confiscated. Follow all instructions from sheriff’s deputies during the screening process.
Can I access public records for a case?
Civil, family, probate, and some criminal case records can be accessed through the courthouse website or in person. Remote access is limited for certain confidential case types. Filing fees may apply for extensive records requests.
What types of cases are heard at the Palo Alto Courthouse?
The Palo Alto Courthouse hears criminal cases including felonies, misdemeanors, traffic offenses, and restraining orders for northern Santa Clara County.
What self-help resources does the court provide?
The court provides both court-specific and statewide self-help resources on topics like juvenile cases, probate, small claims, traffic cases, and general civil procedure.
How can I look up information about a court case?
Court records like dockets, calendars, opinions, and case documents can be searched online through the Santa Clara County Superior Court website.
Where can I get court forms and file paperwork?
Court forms are available online to download and print. Paperwork can be filed in person at the courthouse or using the court’s online filing system.
What options are available if I need an attorney?
The county bar association provides a lawyer referral service. There are also legal aid organizations and limited-scope representation options for those who cannot afford full legal fees.