First Amendment
How to obtain public records in Allegheny County and more

Link to more background on your state, federal rights

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

Here are some tips on finding and accessing Allegheny County public records.

WHAT: Criminal records
WHERE: Allegheny County Courthouse, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st and 2nd floors, Clerk of Courts office.
HOW: Search computer records by name, date of birth, Social Security number, or case number. Search paper files by name or case number.
FYI: Basic information such as the charges and the disposition of the case are available. For more information, you can fill out a form and the entire file will be retrieved for you.

 
 
Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law

Click here to view the complete text of Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law

   
 

 
 
More on state, federal laws on public records

Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law has been updated

What is a public record in Pennsylvania?

Federal Open Records: What the federal government must provide for public review

   
 

WHAT: Wills
WHERE: City-County Building, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor, Register of Wills office.
HOW: Search computer records by name, date of birth, Social Security number, or case number. Search paper files by name or case number.
FYI: Basic information such as date of filing and executor are available. For more information, you can fill out a form and the entire file will be retrieved for you.

WHAT: Marriage licenses
WHERE: City-County Building, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor, Marriage License Bureau.
HOW: Search by name, year of marriage, or marriage license number. No computers; paper records from the late 1800s.
FYI: Generally includes names and occupations of parents, location of marriage, previous marriage, religious affiliation, name of official who performed marriage.

WHAT: Civil lawsuits, judgments, liens
WHERE: City-County Building, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor, Prothonotary's Office.
HOW: Search by computer or paper files by name or type of action.
FYI: Includes divorce actions.

WHAT: Voter registration
WHERE: County Office Building, Ross Street and Forbes Avenue, Downtown. 6th floor, elections office.
HOW: Visit in person, or call 412-350-4510.
FYI: Information includes birthdate, party affiliation, voting history.

WHAT: Real estate records, deeds
WHERE: County Office Building, Ross Street and Forbes Avenue, 1st floor, deeds office.
HOW: Search files by name. Computer available. Or search through the county's Web-based resource.
FYI: Information includes mortgage information, sale price, assessment, previous owners; and characteristics, photo and sketch of house or property.

 
 
CASE STUDY
Finding information on criminal history

You've heard that one of your local officials has a criminal record. How do you find out for sure?

Following is an actual step-by-step case study from a reporter who got a tip that a local official had a felony record in New Jersey. Here's precisely how the reporter verified the information:

1. Called the county elections office to find out birthdate.

2. Using the name and birthdate, called the state Department of Education to check on a teaching certificate. Learned the date the certificate was issued, and that it was still valid. (This is significant because felons generally aren't allowed to teach in the state's public schools.)

3. Found phone numbers for various New Jersey agencies by using the state's Internet site, www.state.nj.us

4. From New Jersey Department of Corrections, received information on date and location of sentence, length of jail term, and parole information.

5. From the Bergen County (N.J.) prosecutor's office, found the prosecutor who handled the case. Prosecutor faxed a court document that listed the charges.

6. To absolutely verify the proper identity, located a Social Security number through a paid database service on the Internet. Verified the match with the state Department of Education on the teaching certificate and on New Jersey criminal record.

   
 

WHAT: Federal criminal records and civil lawsuits
WHERE: Federal Courthouse, Liberty Avenue at 700 Grant Street. 8th floor.
HOW: Computer records from 1991; card files for earlier records. Retrieve the case number and give it to the clerk, who will get docket file.
FYI: Some older files are stored in Philadelphia.

WHAT: Immigration records
WHERE: Federal Courthouse, Liberty Avenue at 700 Grant St. 8th floor.
HOW: Card file only. Search by name. Fill out request form for file.
FYI: Information includes date of birth, year moved to U.S., year of citizenship.

WHAT: Divorce records
WHERE: Allegheny Building, Forbes between Grant and Cherry Way. 2nd floor.
HOW: Ask clerk to see the file, by name or case number. Some general information about the case (date of filing, type of filing, attorney's name, etc.) can be found at the prothonotary's office or online at this Web address
FYI: Copy machine available.

WHAT: Bankruptcies
WHERE: Bankruptcy Court, USX Tower, Room 5414, 600 Grant Street; 412-644-2700. Open 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
HOW: Computer files begin 1986; previous files are on microfiche. Search by name.
FYI: Recent opinions can be found at online at this Web site.

WHAT: Corporations
WHERE: State Office of Incorporation, Secretary of State Office, Harrisburg
HOW: Call (717) 787-1057 from 8 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; or go to searchable data base at this Web site
FYI: Includes officers of company, when company was formed, address, fictitious names.

WHAT: Records on tax-exempt organizations
WHERE: Department of State's Bureau of Charitable Organizations, Harrisburg.
HOW: Go to the agency's Web site, or call the Department of State at 717-783-1621.
FYI: Tax-exempt (non-profit) groups are required to show their federal tax-exempt forms (also known as 990 forms) to anyone who asks. However, they don't have to give away copies or mail them. Includes total expenses and revenue, the amount of contributions received, the percentage spent on administrative costs, salaries of its top employees, and the net revenue from special events. Organizations aren't required to file the form until a year to 18 months after the end of the fiscal year. Some 990s are posted on www.Guidestar.org.

WHAT: Information on candidates for public office
WHERE: County Office Building, Ross Street and Forbes Avenue, Downtown. 6th floor, Elections Department.
HOW: Paper files. Search by name of candidate.
FYI: Information includes campaign contribution, expenses, treasurer's name, address and some biographical information for candidates and elected officials in local government.

WHAT: Executive orders by County Manager
WHERE: Allegheny County Courthouse, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor.
HOW: Filed in minutes of meetings. Also available at http://www.county.allegheny.pa.us/exaction/index.asp
FYI: See who's getting government contracts from the county.

WHAT: County audits
WHERE: Allegheny County Courthouse, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor, controllers office.
HOW: Ask clerk to view audit booklet.
FYI: Detailed audits include fiscal irregularities in county government. Office can give you a list of recently completed audits as well as the audit reports.

WHAT: County employees' salaries
WHERE: Allegheny County Courthouse, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor, Controller's office.
HOW: Filed in books by name and department.
FYI: Salaries of all municipal, school board and government employees are public record. See the appropriate personnel department.

WHAT: County contracts
WHERE: Allegheny County Courthouse, Grant Street, Downtown. 1st floor, Controller's office.
HOW: Ask clerk to view a particular contract. Filed by name.
FYI: Call first for better service. 412-350-4650.

WHAT: Attorney suspensions/disbarment
WHERE: County bar associations.
HOW: For Allegheny County, call the Disciplinary Board at (412) 565-2300; or check the Allegheny County Bar Association web site at www.acba.org
FYI: The Supreme Court keeps discipline records for all attorneys in the state.

WHAT: Educator licenses, kindergarten through 12th grade.
WHERE: State Department of Education, Harrisburg
HOW: Call the Standards and Practices Commission in Harrisburg, 717-787-6576.
FYI: You must have a name or social security number. Office can release status of license, action taken against license holder along with general reason and date, last known school district, and college information.

WHAT: Discipline of doctors and other professionals
WHERE: Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, Harrisburg, 717-787-8503.
HOW: Get information about doctors, as well as any other professional licensed by the Department of State's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, by going to LicensePA.state.pa.us. But this site will tell consumers only about license status, not why the state has taken action against a license. Contact the Bureau for that information.
FYI: Consumers can find a list of all the regulatory boards for professions at: www.dos.state.pa.us/bpoa/boards&commissions.html. These boards field and adjudicate consumer complaints about everyone from doctors to funeral directors to auctioneers.

WHAT: Protection from abuse orders
WHERE: Allegheny Building, Forbes between Grant and Cherry Way. 2nd floor.
HOW: Clerks need a case number, which can be obtained by going to the Prothonotary's office or clicking on this link to the office's Web site.
FYI: PFA orders are listed at pfad.org but you must sign up for an account.

WHAT: Census data
WHERE: The internet
HOW: Go to www.census.gov and click on "American Factfinder."
FYI: This site offers a wealth of information, including the racial/ethnic makeup of neighborhoods, total population, age, and some housing characteristics at the state, county and local municipality levels. Some neighborhood data is even available block-by-block.