Last updated: October 18, 2013
The heart of Silicon Valley is home to the movers-and-shakers of the tech industry, so it should come as no surprise that its courthouses boast the latest electronics and wireless internet technology. Whether you want to explore the Tech Museum, hike through the redwood groves of Big Basin, or just catch an exciting Sharks game, San Jose has something for everyone. It doesn't hurt that San Jose is one of the safest and most affluent big cities on the planet.
With the low density urban sprawl, most people don't realize that San Jose is the third largest city in California. Similarly, the San Jose court system sprawls across Santa Clara county. Downtown courts are broken up by area of law, with the biggest distinction being the civil DTS and the criminal HOJ. There are also far flung branch courts to the north and the south. Knowing which court is appropriate for your particular issue is critical to your success, so here is a useful guide to some of the key courthouses in San Jose.
Good to know: The Downtown Superior Court is the primary trial-level civil courthouse in San Jose. They hear civil, probate, landlord/tenant and small claims cases. Before you file a lawsuit, learn about alternative dispute resolution on their self-help page. If you are representing yourself, find the proper form on their list of forms. The lines for filing are usually pretty short, but try to avoid the 3-4 p.m. rush. They do not allow lawyers to work small claims, but contact their small claims advisor at SCAdvisor@scscourt.org to learn about the process. Free Wi-Fi throughout the building, login with username “jurordts” and password "honor." Pro-tip: free 2-hour street parking on 2nd and Julian, if you don’t mind a 15 minute walk.
Good to know: The Santa Clara Hall of Justice exclusively hears criminal cases. Read up on what to expect from your criminal case on their criminal law self-help page. There is a decent cafeteria in the basement of the government building across the street, or just head to Togo’s. Get here early if you want to find parking in the structure just across Hedding, or bring a lot of quarters for the meters.
Good to know: As its name suggests, the Family Courthouses hears only family law cases, such as restraining orders, divorce, or child custody. Check out their family law self-help page for legal information broken down by topic. If you need to visit their filing or records window, avoid the lunch hour. If you seek a restraining order, head to the basement for their R/O self-help desk.
Good to know: The Juvenile Justice Courthouse hears cases where minors have committed criminal offenses. Confused by the juvenile justice system? Educate yourself on what your child can expect by browsing their juvenile justice self-help page. Paid parking is available to the north, just across Hedding St.
Good to know: The Norte Dame Courthouse handles child support hearings and mediates property or child custody disputes. It also houses the in-person Self-Help Center, which is open Monday through Thursday. They can give you general advice and help you find and complete the proper legal forms. There is paid public parking just across St. John St. and just across Alameda Blvd.
Good to know: As you would expect, the Traffic Courthouse hears only traffic cases. Instead of driving to Traffic Court (and risking another ticket!), save yourself the hassle by paying your citation online instead. Read more about traffic court on their self-help page. This courthouse is unusually efficient, so you can look forward to almost no lines! There is abundant free parking adjacent to the building.
Good to know: The Palo Alto branch of the Superior Court hears criminal, small claims and traffic matters. They have free Wi-Fi access across the entire building, so bring your favorite gadget. There is also a law library in the basement; if you need help ask the librarian, she absolutely rocks! The best parking is just north across Sherman Ave.
Good to know: The “South County” branch of the Superior Court hears limited civil, criminal, dependency, family, small claims and traffic cases arising from Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy. This courthouse is clean, new and almost always nearly empty; not a waiting line to be seen. The staff has a laid back attitude that makes your task much more bearable. Sign into their Wi-Fi with username “jurorsc” password “honor.” Tons of free parking all around the building.
Good to know: The small Sunnyvale branch hears only family law matters. Usually fairly empty, so don’t expect a long a wait. Parking is adjacent to the building.
Good to know: The Terraine Courthouse handles juvenile dependency and criminal cases, specifically adult drug court. Learn about juvenile dependency on their self-help website. There is public parking on the other side of Terraine St.
Good to know: The Sixth District Court of Appeal has appellate jurisdiction over Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. Appellate courts review decisions by Superior Court judges, and are in turn reviewed by the California Supreme Court. Browse their list of forms for the appropriate legal instrument, or bone up on all sorts of California law with their generous self-help page. You have no business here unless your case has already been through a lower trial-level court.
Good to know: The Robert F. Peckham Federal Building is a branch office for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which is headquartered in San Francisco. This court only handles federal matters. The Northern District of California is located within the Ninth Circuit, and most appeals will be handled in San Francisco. If you plan on representing yourself, try reading their generous handbook for representing yourself in federal court.