Lise Olsen’s indispensable websites

Indispensable websites and documents on the Internet in Texas and beyond

Lise Olsen, investigative reporter, The Houston Chronicle

Lise.olsen@chron.com  (713) 362-7462

 TOP PUBLIC RECORDS SITES:

 PUBLICRECORDFINDER.COM

Has a  comprehensive list of state public records’ websites in Texas and elsewhere in the US>

http://www.publicrecordfinder.com/states/texas.html

 REAL ESTATE RECORDS:

In all the largest counties in Texas, ownership and assessed property values are available on the internet.

Harris County is at http://www.hcad.org/

Links to other counties statewide are here. http://www.txcountydata.com

These are often more up-to-date than commercial search services and include more details. But you can find the same type of stuff with Nexis and other online search tools.

 DRIVERS’ LICENSE DATA: not available on a public website, but can be obtained for some states by subscription to www.publicdata.com

 TEXAS DRIVER’S HISTORY

www.txdps.state.tx.us/ftp/forms/dr-1.pdf. Texas Driver Histories. Fax the form to 512.424.2649 and send a check to DPS.

 VOTER REGISTRATION DATA:

Search by voters’ name at:https://team.sos.state.tx.us/voterws/viw/faces/SearchSelectionVoter.jsp

Will give you their county of residence in Texas. From there you can find more information.

An example for Harris County: http://www.tax.co.harris.tx.us/voter/voter.asp

 ONLINE PHONE DIRECTORIES./PEOPLEFINDERS

 There are a million and you should know and use several and compare results.

Some of my favorites are: 

White pages: www.whitepages.com   It sometimes has people’s spouses and ages.

Switchboard: www.switchboard.com  Includes search by distance from a certain site.

Zabasearch: www.zabasearch.com   Has information from public records websites, often including old addresses and sometimes including years of birth.

Pipl.com – search tool that looks in  both some public records as well as social networking websites. Claims to be the most comprehensive search tool on the web.

Cell phone directory: http://www.mobilephoneno.com/

Reverse look-up:  If a caller leaves a phone number but no name, try anywho: http://www.anywho.com/rl.html

Icerocket.com – New and useful for searching blogs, twitter, etc.

 GOVERNMENT/PROFESSIONAL DIRECTORIES:

Harris County directory: http://www.co.harris.tx.us/hc_phone_dir/

Texas state courts’ directory:http://dm.courts.state.tx.us/OCA/DirectorySearch.aspx

State employees: http://www.dir.state.tx.us/ccts/directory/agy313c.html

 PROFESSIONAL LICENSES/BACKGROUNDING:

The State Bar of Texas:

http://www.texasbar.com/

Has a directory of lawyers, including disciplinary history, diploma and license dates and phone numbers.  You can search by specialty or by city too. Some have photos, websites as well. For more on discipline, call or e-mail the bar directly..

 The Judicial Conduct Commission http://www.scjc.state.tx.us/

Its public actions are online and you can sign up to get alerted to new actions. When a public decision is taken, all data related to the original complaints, including tapes of hearings become available via written request.

 The Texas Medical Board http://www.tmb.state.tx.us

For licensing information, meaty bios on doctors and disciplinary history check under “Services for Consumers” and then “Find your physician.”  Disciplinary history is within the profiles. Click on the dates to see full documents. Additional information is available by calling the PIO.  Once an action is appealed, the entire record becomes available by appealing to the State Office of Administrative Hearings: www.soah.state.tx.us  Phone: 512.475.4993

 Other state licensing data:

A lot of other data is available on line or by phone for just about any other professional who is licensed, from nurses to acupuncturists to masseuses. Links are in various places, including:  http://www.texasonline.com/portal/tol/en/gov/10/5 (a long list of professional and occupational licenses).

 Educational history:

Most universities will confirm (or debunk) diploma information with a complete name, date of graduation and degree name or type. Call Pies.  Professors’ bios and phone numbers are often online, as are expert directories, etc. A few verification sites are online: University of Houston:https://www.stu.uh.edu/uoh/degverpublic/degreeinput.jsp

UT degree info: http://utdirect.utexas.edu/registrar/degv.WBX

 Public employees:

Most civil service files of public employees, including police officers, are available, though addresses and social security numbers and other “private information” is redacted. For those who choose to fight for their jobs when fired, additional records often are available through the city or county’s Civil Service Commission.

 TROUBLE WITH THE LAW:

 FEDERAL CRIMINAL HISTORY:

Go to PACER party index: http://pacer.uspci.uscourts.gov/ There you need to log-in and select the court you want (Criminal in this case; search nationally or search in the Texas-Western division for El Paso area; Texas-Southern for Houston, etc.). Searches are free, downloading documents costs 10 cents a page – you must register to get a password/logon.

The only trouble with federal records, most of which are available in PDF, is that the defendants’ DOBs and addresses are often not included. Call lawyers to verify data – their names are in the PACER records.

 FEDRAL CIVIL AND BANKRUPTCY RECORDS: Go to PACER party index: http://pacer.uspci.uscourts.gov/ There you need to log-in and select the court you want (Bankruptcy or Civil  in this case; search nationally or search in the Texas-Southern division for Houston residents. You need a logon and password for this service but it is not expensive.

 CRIMINAL HISTORY/DISTRICT/STATE COURT RECORDS.

Increasingly local courts are online and you can even get docket information and some documents.In Texas, look for the county district clerk who is the keeper of the information and look for an e-docket or e-files search.  (In contrast, the county clerk is in charge of other public records like marriage licenses, campaign finance information, fictitious names, real estate transfers, etc.)

 The Harris County District Clerk just introduced its first online search tool with the most recently criminal and civil cases – available here —http://www.hcdistrictclerk.com/eDocs/Public/Search.aspx

 CIVIL SUITS: Harris County’s available on the same link.http://www.hcdistrictclerk.com/eDocs/Public/Search.aspx

These can be a good mine – they include medical malpractice, contract disputes, fraud allegations, etc.. Many county district clerks have some of their records on the internet (see links above under criminal). Harris County has its civil court records online now – and the criminal courts records can be searched via subscription.

 HELLO DAD, I’M IN JAIL:

TDCJ’s roster of inmates is available online:http://168.51.178.33/webapp/TDCJ/index2.htm This includes the current offenses and criminal history of offenders who are currently incarcerated. For a fee, you can get a criminal history check for those who are out.

Harris Co. jail inmates are here: http://apps.jims.hctx.net/sopublic/

Bureau of Prison inmates are here:

http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/LocateInmate.jsp

 SEX OFFENDER REGISTRIES:

A good backgrounding tool and available in 50 states. Texas’ records are here:

https://records.txdps.state.tx.us/DPS_WEB/Portal/index.aspx?Redirected

 OWNERSHIP INTERESTS, BUSINESS AND PROPERTY RECORDS:

 COUNTY CLERK DATABASES:

Available locally.  

Harris County’s site is here:  http://www.cclerk.hctx.net/coolice/default.asp?Category=RealProperty&Service=mastermenu

 Generally these include:

-Marriage license records. Name of bride and groom; marriage date; name of clergy and usually DOBs all online.

-Land transfers (sales of land and property) by the name of the person. You must visit the real estate section of the county clerk’s office (3rd floor of the new civil courts building) to see actual copies of deeds.

– UCC filings – documents related to loans. You can find out how much a person borrowed on a property, but now how much is currently owed or how much was put down.

– Campaign finance reports (in Harris County, dates and basic info is on the internet, the copies are available at the courthouse.)

– Assumed names (basically the DBA names of businesses). The Harris County clerk’s office registers the names used by businesses that are not incorporated, known as dbas. Searchable by name or by the person’s name.

 PERSONAL PROPERTY RECORDS – mostly available via commercial records services, but some are online.  You can find out about  car registration info. Boat and airplane ownership information also available.  

 REAL ESTATE DATABASES: Commercial real estate databases often include more information about the closing dates, foreclosure information and sale price (voluntarily) reported by the realtor. Available through a real estate professional. In the Houston area, some minimal info about real estate sales and more about property for sale is available at http://www.har.com

 SEC RECORDS (Publicly traded corporations). For corporations that are publicly traded, look for quarterly and annual reports on the internet. (Annual reports are called 10-Ks.) http://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/webusers.htm

The site includes a tutorial.

 HOOVERS: Some basic information about big companies and their competitors is available for free at http://www.hoovers.com

 SECETARY OF STATE OR STATE CORPORATION COMMISSIONhttp://www.sos.state.tx.us/corp/sosda/index.shtml

Incorporated companies can be searched by last name of officers or by the company names for $1 per search. Results include officers’ names, some limited reporting data, status of the corporation and agents. This can give you names of related companies to search in civil suits or in other records.

 OSHA/WORKPLACE SAFETY RECORDS

If a business has run afoul of an OSHA rule, the basic data should be on the OSHA website. But for more detail, you need to call the OSHA PIO and/or visit one of the Houston district offices and get the records with an FOI.  The search tool is here: . http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.html

Search for both “open” and “closed” cases – you’ll need to do two searches. 

 EPA/ENVIRONMENTAL DATA

For companies that are major polluters (and minor polluters), the number of toxics dumped per year are available on the EPA website.http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer/   You can also search by zipcode to see how pollution affects a neighborhood. Texas’ environmental enforcement reports are available here:

http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/nav/cec/enforcement_rpts.html

 CONTRACTING DATA: Local contractors data is available through the county or city assessors office.

But you need to call them and request data.  The state comptroller has similar information .For federal contractors, try the new OMB Watch website: http://www.fedspending.org/fpds/index.php?reptype=a

 ELECTIONS DATA:

 CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORTS

Many county clerks’ offices (election offices) have either paper or online copies of both financial disclosure forms from everyone from county judges to county commissioners as well as campaign finance contributions reports.

 – State reports are online, though only 1 or 2 years of information is available at the State Ethics Commission http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/ This data is available in comma-delimited format – save it to your disk and you can open it in Excel.

 -Federal reports (if, for example, you want to see who locally are funding the presidential candidates): http://www.opensecrets.org or http://www.fec.gov/

 TEXAS PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

For advice or assistance on your rights with an electronic records request: Cost Rules Administrator, Hadassah Schloss, at 512-475-2497.  Texas AG has lots of helpful data and you can search AG opinions related to others’ requests:http://www.oag.state.tx.us/sitesearch.shtml

 INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING RESOURCE SITES: 

Phone numbers of  Investigative Reporters who can help you in Texas or elsewhere on the planet: http://bolles.ire.org/dij/

 IRE’s resource center – tipsheets and stories from all over:http://www.ire.org/resourcecenter/index.html

The NICAR ‘net tour: http://www.ire.org/training/nettour/beats.html

 A link to all kinds of journalism information/organizations:http://www.reporter.org/

Journalists’ Toolbox

http://www.journaliststoolbox.org/

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