California in the United States

The answers to many California law-related questions can be found through the excellent collection of internet links compiled by NOCALL, the Northern California chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries. More specific information is arranged by branch of government as follows:

  • Legislative Branch: Ballot Propositions; Bills and Bill Status; New Laws and Codes; The California Constitution; Legislative History.
  • Judicial Branch: Case Law; Case Files; Court Rules; Docket Sheets; Judicial Biographies; Jury Instructions; Petitions for Review; Trial Transcripts.
  • Executive Branch: Government Agencies; Attorney General Opinions; Proposed Regulations; Final Regulations; Regulatory History; Vetoes and Veto Messages.
  • Other Information: Business Entities; Charities/Nonprofits; Law Library Associations; Libraries; Practice Guides, Legal Encyclopedias, Treatises & Research Guides; Vital Records.

Note: Further information are available in the California legal Encyclopedia.

A. Legislative Branch

Ballot Propositions: The Hastings Law Library provides access to California Ballot Propositions back to 1911. The Library also posts a searchable California Ballot Measures Database of propositions and initiatives.

To find out more about California’s Ballot Propositions, see the chapter on “Ballot Measure Research” in Henke’s California Law Guide and/or the California Ballot Measures research guide by the UC Berkley Law Library.

Bills and Bill Status: New bills are posted on the California Legislative Information site (1999/2000 session to the present). Older materials are available from Lexis andWestlaw. Chapter Laws are published in Deering’s California Codes: Advanced Legislative Service and West’s California Legislative Service, and copies are available from the L.A. County Law Library and most law school libraries.

You can check bill status by pulling up the bill on the Official California Legislative Information site and clicking on the “History” tab. For questions, call the Office of the Chief Clerk (916-319-2856) or the Secretary of Senate (916-445-4251).

Constitutions: California’s original constitution (of 1849) was replaced by the current constitution in 1879. However, the new constitution has been revised and amended several times, most notably in 1966 and 1976, when the state adopted recommendations of the California Constitution Revision Commission.

For more about California’s constitutions, subsequent revisions and amendments, and the Revision Commission, see the “California Constitution” chapter or Henke’s California Law Guide.

Laws and Codes: California laws are first published as individual Chapter Law pamphlets and compiled in Statutes of California, as well as West’s California Legislative Service and Deering’s California Advance Legislative Service.

In addition, laws are posted free back to 1993 on LegInfo (Official California Legislative Information) and FindLaw. Older laws from 1849 to 2005 are posted in the Official Publications Archive of the Clerk of the California State Assembly; for “tips on how to use” the Official Publication Archives, see California Chaptered Laws Online, 1850-Current in 17(1) PLL Perspectives (Fall 2005). You can also order copies of the print publications from the L.A. County Law Library and most California law school libraries. The subscription-based Digital Session Laws collection on HeinOnline has California laws from 1849 to 2000.

California laws are codified in Deering’s California Codes Annotated (Lexis) andWest’s Annotated California Codes (Thomson/West). Unannotated editions of the Code are posted free by FindLaw, Lexis, Westlaw (CA-ST or CA-ST-ANN), Fastcase and VersusLaw. Copies are available from the L.A. County Law Library and most law school libraries.

Historical editions of the California Code are available on Lexis (annotated), Westlaw (annotated), Fastcase (unannotated, from 2007).

For a detailed discussion of California’s Statutes and Codes, see the “California Statutes” chapter of Henke’s California Law Guide.

Legislative History: Basic legislative materials are posted back to 1999 on the California Legislative Counsel Web site. Some materials back to 1849 are posted in the Historical Information section of the website of the Office of the Chief Clerk.

For older bills and more comprehensive research, your best bet is to hire a legislative research service. The Legislative Intent Service is considered the premium provider — they offer excellent service, deep in-house files and unparalleled access to certain materials. Competing services include Legislative Research & Intent LLC (LRI) and Legislative History & Intent, both of which offer lower up-front fees. Prices for each service are posted on their web sites. LRI has an online store where you can pay with a credit card and get PDFs PDQ.

For more about California Legislative History materials, see “Sources of Legislative Intent in California” (3 Pacific Law Journal 63), Finding California Legislative History by Ramona Martinez at the U.C. Berkeley Law Library and/or California Legislative History Research Guide by the Hastings College of the Law Library. There is also a chapter on California in Legislative Intent Research: A 50-State Guide, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures and a chapter on “Legislative Intent” inHenke’s California Law Guide.

B. Judicial Branch

For information about the California Court System, as well as forms and contact information, visit their Web site at

Case Law: FindLaw posts a free, searchable, database of reported California Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opinions from 1934 to yesterday, with star pagination ( If you need something even more recent, check the opinions posted on the California Court’s Web site and/or call the court. If you need yet another source for free recent cases, try Google Scholar (free), Fastcase (subscription) or Versuslaw (subscription). All have cases from 1950.

For better searching, older cases and/or cleaner printouts, use Lexis (in the CAL library), Westlaw (CA-CS) or LOIS or another reputable online service.

If you’re looking for something on a shelf, California Supreme Court cases are officially published in California Reports and unofficially in the Pacific Reporter and West’s California Reporter. Courts of Appeal cases are officially published in California Appellate Reports and unofficially in the Pacific Reporter (1929-1959) and West’s California Reporter.

Cases from the Appellate Departments of the Superior Court are published officially in California Appellate Reports Supplement and unofficially in either the Pacific Reporter (1929-1959) or West’s California Reporter. You can get them online from Westlaw in the general CA-CS database or on Lexis in the general CATS file, or in the smaller APP file, both from the CAL library.

For more information about California judicial decisions, see the “California Case Law” chapter of Henke’s California Law Guide.

Case Files: California Supreme Court Briefs back through 1998 are available on Westlaw (CA-BRIEF).

The Los Angeles County Law Library keeps briefs, motions, orders, etc. from cases in the California Supreme and appellate courts. The Library provides access to scanned copies of briefs–searchable by docket number–back to 1999. In addition, briefs filed in all California appellate courts should be available from the California State Library (916-654-0185). Otherwise, hire a document retrieval service or call the court directly.

Court Rules: California Rules of Court are posted on the California Courts Web site in both HTML and .pdf formats ( In print, West publishesCalifornia Rules of Court (often kept at the end of the California statutes) and Lexis publishes Deering’s Annotated Rules of Court. California Court Rules are searchable on Westlaw (CA-RULES). The Los Angeles Daily Journal Corporation publishes sets of individual judges’ rules for judges in Northern (Court Rules: Northern California) and Southern (Court Rules: Southern California).

See also the separate entry for Federal Court Rules and State Court Rules.

Docket Sheets: You can look up basic information (party names, case numbers, attorney names, etc.) for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases on the California Court website. For trial court docket sheets, see the separate entry for Docket Sheets.

Judicial Biographies: The Los Angeles Daily Journal Corporation publishes separate sets of judicial bios for judges in Northern (Northern California Judicial Profiles) and Southern (Judicial Profiles) California. The profiles are available on the Daily Journal(password required).

Jury Instructions: In 2003 California adopted official “Plain English” civil jury instructions known as California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI). These are posted on the California Courts’ Civil Jury Instructions Resource Center along with a cross-reference table to the older instructions, which were known as the “Book of Approved Jury Instructions” or just “BAJI” . The civil jury instructions are also published by Lexis/Matthew Bender in print, CD-ROM and on Lexis (CAL;CJCJUR). BAJI is also available on Lexis (CAL;BAJI). The Westlaw equivalents are CA-JICIV and CA-BAJI.

California’s official criminal jury instructions, California Criminal Jury Instructions(CALCRIM) are drafted by the Judicial Council of California and posted in the Criminal Jury Instructions Resource Center. They are searchable on Lexis (CAL;JUCACI).

Petitions for Review: Petitions for review filed with the California Supreme Court back to 1993 are searchable on Westlaw (CA-PETITION).

Trial Transcripts: Westlaw has a collection of transcripts from California cases (CA-TRIALTRNS for state cases; CA-TRIALTRNS-ALL for state and Federal cases). Otherwise, you generally have to call the court and have them direct you to the relevant court reporter.

C. Executive Branch

Attorney General Opinions: The California Attorney General posts opinions issued since 1986. Lexis has opinions from 1960 (volume 43?) to the present (CAL;CAAG); Westlaw has 1977 (volume 60, no 53) to the present (CA-AG). You can get older opinions from one of the California libraries listed below. Note: California A.G. opinions are published in print in Opinions of the Attorney General of California.

Proposed Regulations: When an agency proposes new regulations, a notice appears in the California Regulatory Notice Register (also called the “Z Register” and formerly called the California Administrative Notice Register until 1989), which is published by the Office of Administrative Law ( A notice also appears in Barclay’s unofficial California Regulatory Law Bulletin, which is available on Lexis(CAL;CARGST) back to 1995.

As far as I know, you have to contact the agency if you want the text of the proposed regulation or any regulatory history.

Final Regulations: When a new regulation goes into effect, the text is filed with the Secretary of State and published in Barclay’s California Regulatory Code Supplement(formerly called the California Administrative Code Supplement until 1989).

Final regulations are subsequently codified in the California Code of Regulations. As of 11/18/98. The Code is posted on the Web site of the California Office of Administrative Law ( You can also call a California law library to get copies or search for sections on Lexis (CAL;CAADMN) or Westlaw (CA-ADC).

Regulatory History: If you want to know the wording of a California administrative code section as it existed in a past year, you can order a copy from the Los Angeles County Law Library (213-629-3531) or another library that keeps the microfiche. If you want to learn more about the history of the regulation, contact the relevant agency and ask for a copy of the “rulemaking file”; California agencies have been required to keep these files for public use since 1980 (Government Code sec. 6250 et seq.).

For more about California regulatory history, see the California Regulatory Research Guide by Carolina Rose of Legislative Research, Inc.

Vetoes and Veto Messages: You can find out whether the Governor has vetoed a recent bill — and get a copy of the Governor’s Veto Message — by looking up the bill on the California Legislative Counsel Web site (

More Information: For more information about California regulations, administrative decisions and other publications, see the “California Administrative Law” chapter ofHenke’s California Law Guide.

D. Other Information

Business Entities: The California Secretary of State’s Business Search lets you look up “domestic stock, domestic nonprofit and qualified foreign corporations, limited liability company and limited partnership information of record.” For pre-1956 corporate records, contact the California State Archives (916-653-2246; For public companies, also check the Publicly Traded Disclosure Search. For sole proprietorships and other entities that do not register with the Secretary of State, check with the county or municipal Tax Collector for a business license (required) and the county or municipal Recorder/Clerk for Fictitious Business names (check the websites for online lookups, and otherwise call or email). Formortgage bankers, brokers, realtors and similar businesses check the Multiple Jurisdiction License Lookup to check registrations with the Department of Corporations, Department of Financial Institutions, Department of Real Estate and the Office of Real Estate Appraisers. See also “Charities/Nonprofits,” below.

Charities/Nonprofits: You can search for charities using the Registry Search from the California Attorney General’s web site.

Law Library Associations: California features at least three: NOCALL for Northern California, SCALL for Southern California and SANDALL for the San Diego area.

Libraries: For questions and copies of California legal materials call the Witkin State Law Library of California (916-654-0185), the Los Angeles County Law Laibrary (213-785-2513 ) the University of California at Berkeley Law Library, or any other large California law library.

Boalt Express is a document delivery service working out of the U. Cal. Berkeley Law Library. Cal Info works out of the L.A. County Law Library and the UCLA libraries.

For other California materials, including government documents, check the online catalog of the California State Library. Other “Complete Depositories” receiving all California government documents include: U.Cal. at Berkley (General Library), Los Angeles (Maps and Government Information Library), San Diego, Santa Barbara and Davis; the San Francisco Public Library; and the L.A. Public Library. You can get copies of material from the L.A. Public Library and most other L.A. libraries by calling on of several document retrieval services, including Retrieve-It (310-587-5555) andCal Info (213-687-8710).

Practice Guides, Legal Encyclopedias, Treatises & Research Guides: The Rutter Group publishes a multi-volume California Practice Series (now owned by West); Lexis publishes a rival series called the Matthew Bender California Practice Guides. Witkin’sSummary of California Law has been the traditional encyclopedia of California law (available on Westlaw and Lexis; see “Witkin”). West publishes a California Jurisprudence (available on Westlaw in the CAJUR database).

Both Lexis and Westlaw offer many California treatise databases (look in the index to their database directories under “California”). To get the titles of California treatises in particular fields of law, see the “California” section of Searching the Law: The States by Francis R. Doyle (last published in 2003).

Leading California legal research guides include Henke’s California Law Guide, Larry Dershem’s California Legal Research Handbook (William S. Hein & Co.) and John K. Hanft’s Legal Research in California.

Vital Records:For birth, death and marriage records, visit VitalSearch. If that doesn’t work, contact the California Department of Public Health which also has birth, death and marriage records back to July 1905. For earlier records, contact the County Recorder for the county where the person was born, died or married.

See also “Vital Records.”


“Witkin” generally refers to a leading California legal treatise by B. E. Witkin titled Summary of California Law, although it may also refer to Witkin’s California Criminal Law, California Procedure or California Evidence. All Witkin treatises are published by Thomson/West.

All four Witkin treatises are available on Westlaw. On Westlaw, the database names are WITCRIM, WITEVID, WITPROC, WITSUM — plus the WITKIN database, which lets you search all four treatises at once. Note: You can pull individual sections using the four specific database names followed by the section number.

The Witkin treatises are also available on Lexis. The database names are CAL;WITCRM, CAL;WITEVD, CAL;WITPRO, CAL;WITSUM and the comprehensive CAL;WITKIN.

Finding the law: California in the U.S. Code

A collection of general and permanent laws relating to california, passed by the United States Congress, are organized by subject matter arrangements in the United States Code (U.S.C.; this label examines california topics), to make them easy to use (usually, organized by legal areas into Titles, Chapters and Sections). The platform provides introductory material to the U.S. Code, and cross references to case law. View the U.S. Code’s table of contents here.


See Also

Attorney General Opinions
Bar Admission
Docket Sheets
Legal Ethics
Los Angeles
Secretary of State Records
State Cases
State Government Agencies
State Laws, generally
State Regulations
Administrative Codes
State Statutes
State Codes
Vital Records

Further Reading



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