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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can the Clerk’s Office give me legal advice?

Clerk’s Office staff can assist you with some inquiries, but they are not authorized to provide you with legal advice. In general, legal advice is advice about what the law is; how to succeed in your case; how to interpret the Constitution, statutes, rules or other sources of law.  Only a licensed attorney can give legal advice.

Court staff must remain impartial at all times.  This means that court staff cannot take sides in any matter before the court. This basic rule protects everyone coming to court, including you, from unfairness and injustice.

In addition to being unable to provide litigants with legal advice, Clerk’s Office staff are not allowed to:  

  • Advise in what court you should file your case.
  • Make recommendations about what you should do or suggest ways to help you win your case.
  • Give an opinion on what the outcome of your case may be.
  • Fill out or correct forms for you.
  • Conduct legal research for you.
  • Explain the legal meaning or effect of a court order.
  • Interpret the law or rules for you.
  • Let you speak to a judge outside of a court hearing.
  • Predict how or when a judge may decide an issue or issue a ruling.
  • Tell you whether a hearing will be set in your case.
  • Give you free copies of documents.

Court staff can give the same limited information to people on both sides of a case, such as:

  • Answer general questions about how the court works.
  • Give general information about court rules, terminology, procedures and practices.
  • Provide or refer you to available court forms.
  • Provide general information from your case, such as certain deadlines or whether an order has entered.

Can I speak directly to the judge about my case?

No.  Except for rare exceptions, you cannot speak about your case directly to the presiding judge in your case outside the presence of the other parties or their counsel.

When will a hearing be set?

Hearings are scheduled at the discretion of the Court. If the Court decides to set your case for a hearing, you will receive advance notice of the hearing date, time, and location. Many cases are decided “on the papers” meaning that the judge reaches a decision based only on the written filings in the case.

Can a Magistrate Judge’s decision be reviewed?

Yes. When a magistrate judge presides over an issue in your case and issues an order or decision, you have the right to have the assigned district judge review the order or decision.

How do I get a subpoena?

If you filed a complaint and paid the filing fee, you may obtain subpoenas from the Clerk’s Office. If you filed a complaint and applied for leave to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee, you may obtain subpoenas from the Clerk’s Office after the Court grants your application and screens your complaint.

How can I get copies of documents from my case, and do I have to pay for the copies if my Application to Proceed Without Prepaying Fees or Costs was granted?

The Clerk’s Office charges $0.10 per page for printing or emailing electronic records. You can request copies in person at the Clerk’s Office or via telephone. 

Copies picked up in person can be paid for with cash, check, or credit/debit card. Copy requests made over the phone are to be paid for by credit/debit card. 

Documents from your case can be accessed electronically via PACER. See the FAQ Is there a way to look up my case without going to the courthouse for more information regarding PACER.

If your Application to Proceed Without Prepaying Fees or Costs was granted you are still responsible for the cost of any requested copies. The Application to Proceed Without Prepaying Fees or Costs only covers the initial cost of filing your case.

Is there a way to look up my case without going to the courthouse?

Yes. Public Access to Court Electronic Records, (referred to as PACER), is a service that provides electronic public access to federal court records. PACER provides the public with access to documents filed at all federal courts. For more information or to register for PACER, visit Public Access to Court Electronic Records | PACER: Federal Court Records (

Although not required, you may wish to set up a PACER account to view docket sheets, documents, and pending deadlines online.

For information regarding the costs associated with PACER, visit  PACER Pricing: How fees work | PACER: Federal Court Records (

Please note that PACER is a separate entity not associated with the Court and any PACER related questions should be directed directly to the PACER Service Center at (800) 676-6856 or

Can I bring my cellphone, laptop or tablet into the courthouse?

Electronic items such as cellphones, laptops and tablets are prohibited. The U.S. Marshals Service will require you to temporarily place any electronic items you bring to the courthouse in their custody during your visit.

Can I get back documents I have filed with the Clerk’s Office?

Paper documents filed with the court are not returned.  They are scanned and uploaded to the court’s ECF (electronic case files) system. National judiciary procedures permit disposal of paper documents once they have been scanned in their entirety and uploaded to ECF. Paper documents are disposed of by the court following conclusion of the case.

Can I bring criminal charges against someone?

No. Federal Criminal cases are initiated and prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office.

What is a magistrate judge and why is my case referred to a magistrate judge?

A United States Magistrate Judge is a judicial officer who serves the United States District Court pursuant to a statutory appointment process rather than the presidential nomination and senate confirmation process used to appoint District Judges under Article III of the Constitution. When you file a civil case, your case will be assigned to both a district judge and a magistrate judge.  

The duties and authorities of a United States Magistrate Judge are outlined in 28 U.S.C. § 636.

Will the court appoint a lawyer to represent me?




You are charged in a criminal case brought by the United States Attorney

Except for a small category of cases, if you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you have the right to appointment of counsel at government expense

You are the plaintiff in a civil case you have brought before the court  

You do not have the right to appointment of counsel at government expense, even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney.

The Court does however have discretion to appoint counsel in very limited circumstances, such as in a case that has progressed to the point of trial. Appointment of counsel in civil cases is extremely rare and should not be expected.


 You are free to seek out representation by counsel even after you file a case as a self-represented person. Some private attorneys and law firms provide “pro bono” (free) legal services to persons unable to afford to hire an attorney. The Court does not maintain a list of such attorneys, but you are free to inquire of law firms on your own behalf as to if they provide pro bono services.  For more information see Where can I get legal advice?