To understand the opportunities to access our state courts and the registries they house, we need to understand how they are formed and how they function.
Washington's judiciary and judicial system operate independently of most statutory access requirements, but operate by their own sets of rules.
State courts are open to the public, but while court rules define a certain degree of openness, it remains the prerogative of judges to administer that process to protect the independence and fairness of the system.
The state court system is not covered by the Open Public Meetings or Open Public Records Acts.
The presentations here are offered to remind us of the organization and function of the state court system: its mission. In addition, it provides detailed information on court records, their accessibility and current access limits. It should be noted that the administration of courts is generally under public records law; court records, however, while mostly available to the public, are controlled by the judiciary and court rule-making process under the Supreme Court and its Administrative Office of the Courts.
Links to specific documents and resources relating to our state courts and their accessibility follow the text below.
A Guide to the Washington Courts
(Twelfth Edition - 2011)
Sistema judicial de Washington
THE SUPREME COURT
Nine judges serve six-year terms, staggered
Handles appeals from the Court of Appeals
Administers the state court system
COURT OF APPEAL
Three judges for each division serve six-year terms, staggered
Division I, Seattle; Division II, Tacoma; Division III, Spokane
He hears appeals from lower courts, except those under the jurisdiction of the Federal Supreme Court.
Judges serve four-year terms
criminal criminal cases
Appeals from courts of limited jurisdiction
District and Municipal Courts
Judges serve four-year terms
Misdemeanor criminal proceedings
Traffic, non-traffic and parking violations
Domestic violence protection orders
Civil claims of $75,000 or less
Small claims up to $5,000
Visiting Our Courts
The Supreme Court is located in Olympia, in the Temple of Justice, on the grounds of the State Capitol. Courts for the three divisions of the state's Court of Appeals are located in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane. Courts in each of the state's 39 counties house superior courts. Each county has at least one district court, and many of the state's cities and towns have a municipal court.
While some proceedings are not open to the public, visitors can attend all others without an appointment. It is generally advisable for large groups to check in advance with the clerk, trustee, bailiff or judge for seating and parking availability.
Types of Cases
All cases filed in the courts areCivilorCriminal.
Civilcases are usually disputes between individuals, corporations, government agencies or other organizations. Examples are claims arising from landlord-tenant disputes, personal injury, breach of warranty on consumer goods, contract disputes, adoptions, marriagedissolutions(divorce),to try, guardianship and professional liability actions.
Decisions are based on apreponderance of evidence. The part that is processing (plaintiff) must prove its case by presenting evidence that is most convincing to thefact fitting room(judgeorjury) than the oppositeevidence.
There are special court procedures for the protection of people threatened with harassment and domestic violence. People can apply for protective orders through documents available at the county clerk's office.
Criminalcases are brought by the government against individuals or corporations accused of committing a crime. The government charges because crime is considered an act against society as a whole. The prosecuting attorney files the charge against the accused person (defendant) on behalf of the government (plaintiff). The prosecution must prove to the judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond onereasonable doubt.
The most serious crimes are calledcrimesand are punishable by up to one year in prison in a state prison. Examples are arson, assault, theft, burglary, murder, and rape.
Minor crimes are called misdemeanors andgross misdemeanors. Both are punishable by confinement in a town or city jail. Examples of serious misdemeanors are theft of property or services valued at up to $250 and driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. Among the many types of misdemeanors are disorderly conduct, prostitution, and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Whether the case is civil or criminal, or tried by a judge or jury in a superior, district, or city court, the procedure is essentially the same. However, there may be some differences from court to court.
jurorsare randomly selected from voter registration lists and lists of those who hold a valid driver's license or “identity card”. In superior courts, 12 people serve on the jury. In district courts, the jury is made up of six or fewer people.
In district, county, and superior courts, jury selection is done in the same way. selection, orsee say,consists of questions asked prospective jurors by the judge and attorneys to determine whether they have any biases that prevent them from hearing the case. Questions can be general (directed to the entire panel) or specific (directed to specific candidates).
If a response indicates that a prospective juror may not be qualified, that individual may bechallenged becauseby the party, through its attorney-in-fact. It is up to the judge to decide whether the individual should be disqualified.
After asking the questions,peremptory challenges—those for which no reason need be given—may be exercised by counsel and the potential juror will be dismissed. How many challenges can be exercised depends on the type of case being tried. How they are exercised (orally or in writing) depends on the local procedure. After all contests are completed, the judge will announce which people have been chosen to serve on the case. Those not chosen are dismissed.
After the judge or clerk administers the oath to the jurors, the case begins. Because the applicant always has theburden of proof, your lawyer does the firstopening statement.
opening statementsare an outline of the facts that a party hopes to establish during the trial. The plaintiff opens first, then the defendant. The defendant may choose to delay filing an initial statement until the plaintiffrestor present your evidence.
Evidenceit is the testimony and evidence presented by each side that is admitted by the judge. The author presents evidence bydirect examof each witness, who are then subject toquestioningby the defendant. After the plaintiff rests, the defendant presents witnesses who may be cross-examined by the plaintiff's attorney.
After the defendant rests, the plaintiff can presentrefutationevidence. After that, the evidentiary phase of the trial ends.
jury instructionsare provided by the judge. They include how the law should be applied to that case. Jurors may receive written copies of the instructions.
Closing Argumentsfollow the judge's instructions. Attorneys for each party make these statements. As with opening statements, the author goes first. After the defendant presents closing arguments, the plaintiff has time for rebuttal.
Jury Deliberationsfollows the closing arguments. The bailiff or other person designated by the court escorts the jury into the jury room to begin deliberations. During deliberation, jurors may not have contact with anyone except as designated by the court.
Criminal Sentencein Washington is performed by superior court judges who make sentencing decisions under adeterminedsentencing system.
Under this system, offenders convicted of criminal offenses are sentenced according to a uniform set of guidelines. The structure of the guidelines does not eliminate the discretion of the sentencing judge. The aim of the system is to ensure that those convicted of similar crimes and who have comparable criminal records receive similar treatment.
A judge can depart from these guidelines only if compelling circumstances exist. Only sentences imposed outside the guidelines can be appealed.
All convictions, adult or juvenile, include mandatory penalty assessments, which are deposited in the state victims' compensation fund. A judge may also order the offender to pay victims damages, loss of property, and actual expenses for treating injuries or lost wages to victims.
Those convicted of misdemeanors may receive probation and/or time in a local jail. Violating the terms of probation can result in a longer prison sentence.
Victims and Witnesses of Crime,under state law, “. . . are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity; and that the rights extended (to them) be honored and protected... no less vigorously than the protection offered to criminal defendants”.
The law lists nine rights for victims and witnesses of crimes and, in some cases, their families. This includes the right to be informed of the outcome of a case in which they were involved and to be notified in advance if a court case in which they were supposed to appear has been cancelled.
If threatened with harm, victims and witnesses are entitled to protection. They also have the right to immediate medical attention if they are injured in the commission of a crime. While waiting to testify, they should have a waiting area away from the accused and the accused's family and friends.
Stolen property must be returned quickly. Employees of the criminal justice system are expected to help victims and witnesses resolve employment-related issues that may arise during the times they are involved in the trial.
Alternative dispute resolution
There is a way to resolve disputes outside of an open and public court. “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR) offers a variety of ways to resolve disputes in lieu of an official judgment. ADR can be conducted in any way that the parties agree to - it can be as casual as a conference table discussion or as structured and discreet as a private court trial.
The advantages of resolving disputes through ADR include reduced litigation costs and a quick outcome. The most used techniques aremediationearbitration.
Mediationit is a confidential, voluntary and non-binding process that uses a neutral third party to guide the parties towards a mutually beneficial resolution of their disagreement. Resolutions are created to suit both parties and may include a settlement not available through the court system.
The mediator does not impose his will or judgment on the parties, but helps them decide for themselves whether to settle and on what terms. The mediator is a catalyst, helping parties reach agreement by identifying issues, exploring possible grounds for agreement, and assessing the consequences of not reaching agreement.
Mediation works well in individual disputes and in large multi-group conflicts. It is effective in all types of civil matters, and can occur before or after the filing of a lawsuit. Although attorneys may be present during the mediation process, they are not essential to the process.
Arbitrationinvolves a neutral third party chosen to hear both sides of the case, then resolve it by handing down a specific decision or award. Arbitration is a common way to resolve disputes with insurance companies on specific claims.
An arbitration proceeding is similar to a normal trial. The main difference is that arbitration can be binding or non-binding, as previously agreed by the disputing parties. If binding arbitration has been chosen, the decision or award is final.
In Washington counties with a population of 70,000 or more, the superior court may require binding arbitration in some civil actions, generally those in which the only remedy sought is a monetary judgment. Unlike voluntary arbitration, mandatory arbitration operates under the authority of the court system. By law, it can only be used to resolve disputes of $35,000 or less.
Limited jurisdiction courts
These include district and municipal courts. District courts are county courts and serve defined territories, both incorporated and unincorporated, within counties. Municipal courts are those created by cities and towns. More than two million cases are filed annually in district and county courts. Excluding parking violations, seven out of eight cases moving through all state courts are filed there. This is primarily due to the broad jurisdiction these courts have over traffic offenses and misdemeanors.
District Courtshave jurisdiction over criminal and civil proceedings. Criminal jurisdiction includes misdemeanors and serious misdemeanors whether involving traffic violations or not. Examples include: Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, and fourth-degree assault. Preliminary hearings for criminal cases are also within the jurisdiction of the district courts. The maximum penalty for serious offenses is one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. The maximum penalty for misdemeanors is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. A defendant is entitled to a trial by jury for these offenses. Juries in limited jurisdiction courts are made up of six people, as opposed to juries in higher courts, which are made up of 12 people.
Jurisdiction in civil cases includes damages for damages to individuals or personal property and contract disputes in amounts up to $75,000. District courts also have jurisdiction over transit and non-transitinfractions, civil proceedings for which a pecuniary penalty but no prison sentence may be imposed. There is no right to a trial by jury for an infringement. District courts have jurisdiction to issue domestic violence and anti-harassment protection orders and no-contact orders. They also have jurisdiction to hear name change petitions and certain foreclosures. More information about these procedures can be obtained by contacting your local district court. Small claims are limited to cash claims of up to $5,000. These are filed and heard in the district court's Small Claims Department. Generally, each party is self-represented - lawyers are not allowed except with the judge's permission. Witnesses cannot be subpoenaed, but may be authorized to testify voluntarily on behalf of one of the parties. Examples of cases heard: neighborhood disputes, consumption problems, landlord/tenant issues and small charges. The clerk of the district court can provide you with specific information about filing a claim.
Municipal Courtshear cases involving violations of city or municipal ordinances. The authority of a municipal court over these ordinance violations is similar to the authority that district courts have over violations of state law. The violation of the ordinance must have occurred within the limits of the municipality. Like district courts, county courts only have jurisdiction over felony misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and infractions. Municipal courts do not accept civil or small claims cases. As with district courts, county courts can issue domestic violence protection orders and no-contact orders. A municipal court may issue harassment protection orders by adopting a local court rule that establishes that process.
Traffic Offense Agencies (TVB)can be created by cities in addition to a municipal court. TVBs deal with city ordinance traffic violations that do not involve the possibility of arrest. The main objective of a department of traffic violations is to expedite the handling of traffic cases that do not require any judicial involvement. TVB is under the supervision of the municipal court and the supervising court designates traffic law offenses that TVB can prosecute.
Domestic Violence and Anti-Harassment Ordersconfront district and municipal courts on a daily basis. In addition to hearing criminal domestic violence and anti-harassment cases, limited jurisdiction courts also issue protective orders. These are non-contact orders, protection orders and anti-harassment orders. No-contact orders and protective orders can be obtained from a municipal or district court. Anti-harassment orders can be obtained from district courts as well as municipal courts that have adopted local court rules establishing the process. Court staff are knowledgeable about domestic violence issues and can help the victim complete domestic violence or anti-harassment forms. However, court staff cannot give legal advice.
Appeals from Courts of Limited Jurisdictionare taken from the “records” of a lower court to the higher court, where only the miscarriages of law in the process below are discussed. In courts of limited jurisdiction, the record is made from an electronic recording of the original proceedings and court documents.
There is no additional evidence or testimony presented on appeal. The only exception is an appeal from a small claims case. Small claims lawsuits are heardde novo (or anew)in the superior court in the registry of the court of limited jurisdiction.
Judgesto the district court are elected for four-year terms. Municipal court judges may be elected or appointed for a four-year term, depending on state law provisions. All judges are required to attend 45 hours of judicial training every three years. Judges of courts of limited jurisdiction belong to theAssociation of District and Municipal Court Judges, which was created by state statute to study and make recommendations on the functioning of the courts served by its members.
Court Support Stafffor courts of limited jurisdiction include administrative support staff. Under the direction of the presiding judge, the staff is responsible for maintaining the court's tax, administrative, and judicial records.
conditionalfor persons convicted in courts of limited jurisdiction it is limited to two years, except on DUI convictions, where a court may order probation for up to five years. A parole counselor administers programs that provide pre-sentence investigations, supervision, and probationary treatment for misdemeanor offenders in a district or county court.
Probation counselors can make sentencing recommendations to the court, including the appropriate treatment (ie, drug and alcohol counseling) that an offender should receive. The probation counselor periodically informs district/county court judges of an offender's progress while under supervision.
As there is no limit to the types of civil and criminal cases tried, the superior courts are calledgeneral jurisdictioncourts. Superior courts also have the authority to hear cases appealed from courts of limited jurisdiction.
Most superior court proceedings are recorded, so that a written record is available if a case is appealed. The appellate courts can then properly review the cases before them. Some superior courts use video recordings instead of the usual written transcripts prepared by court reporters.
appealscan be made to the Court of Appeal. In some cases, they go directly to the Supreme Court.
youth cutis a division of the superior court, instituted by law to deal with minors under 18 who commit felonies (offenders) or are abused or neglected (dependents). Like adults, juvenile offenders are sentenced according to a uniform set of guidelines. Taking into account the seriousness of the offenses committed and the subject's history of previous offenses, the guidelines establish a range of sentences and sentence conditions.
A juvenile sentence ordispositionoutside the standard range is possible if the court considers that the standard provision would amount to a “manifest injustice” to the youth or the community. Provisions within the standard range are not appealable; provisions of manifest injustice are.
Dependent children are usually placed in the care of the state's Department of Health and Social Services (DSHS). Courts often place these children out of the home for varying periods of time.
Districts—All superior courts are grouped into single or multi-county districts. There are 30 such districts in the state of Washington. Counties with large populations usually comprise a district, while in less populated areas, a district may consist of two or more counties. A courthouse is located in each of Washington's 39 counties in a municipal setting called the County Seat. In rural districts, judges rotate between their counties as needed. Each county courthouse has its own courthouse and staff.
Most superior court districts in Washington serve the county in which they are located. Several of Washington's smaller counties are served by a multi-county superior district court. Superior court administration is consolidated for each district. Counties belonging to a district include:
Skamania e Klickitat
Columbia, Garfield e Asotin
Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille
Benton e Franklin
Pacific and Wahkiakum
Judgesof our Superior Courts are elected for four-year terms. Vacancies between elections are filled by appointment of the governor, and the newly appointed judge serves until the next general election. To qualify for the position, a person must be an attorney admitted to practice in Washington.
There is a presiding judge in each county or judicial district who performs specific administrative functions and acts as spokesperson for the court.
Superior court judges belong to an organization established by law calledAssociation of Judges of the Superior Court of Justice. Association-specific committees work throughout the year to improve the court system and communicate with other courts, the legislature, bar associations, the media, and the public. The organization's officers are elected each year at the association's annual spring conference.
Superior Court Support Staff
probation officer-The responsibilities and designation of a bailiff vary from court to court, depending on the needs of the court served. The bailiff's primary duties are to call order in the court, maintain order in the courtroom, and attend to the needs of jurors. In some counties, bailiffs with legal training serve as the judge's legal assistants.
County Clerk—The county clerk is an elected official who maintains official court records and oversees all record-keeping matters relating to the operation of the courts. Among other things, the county clerk may be responsible for notifying jurors, maintaining all papers and evidence on file in cases before the court, and filing cases for the superior court.
Commissioner-Most courts employ justice commissioners to facilitate the work of judges. Court commissioners are usually attorneys licensed to practice in Washington. Working under the direction of a judge, court commissioners assume many of the same powers and duties as a superior court judge. Matters heard by the court commissioner include probate, dissolution of uncontested marriages, signing court orders for uncontested matters, and other judicial functions as required by the judge. The state constitution limits each county to no more than three court commissioners, but additional commissioners may be appointed for family law and mental health matters.
Court Administrator—Many higher courts employ court administrators. Their duties vary, depending on the policies of the court served. Generally, the court administrator is responsible for notifying jurors, supervising court staff, assisting the presiding judge with court budget planning, assigning cases, and implementing general court policies.
Juvenile Court Administrator—The juvenile court administrator directs the local juvenile court parole program and provides general administrative support to the superior court juvenile division. Each of the state's juvenile courts is unique in the variety and diversity of programs and services it offers, although all offer some form of diagnostic and diversion services. Several juvenile court administrators direct county-level detention programs. The trustee is generally appointed by the judges of the superior court; however, in some counties, judges have transferred this responsibility to the county legislative authority.
Court Rapporteur—Stenographic notes are taken in court by a court clerk as a record of the proceedings. Some court reporters take on additional roles as secretaries to one or more judges.
Court of Appeal
Most cases appealed from higher courts go directly to the Court of Appeals. It is a non-discretionary appellate court - it must accept all appeals brought before it. The Court of Appeals has the authority toto reverse(annulment),reminder(send back to lower court),Modify, orclaimthe decision of the lower court.
The court decides each case after reviewing the transcript of records in the high court and considering the arguments of the parties. Generally, the court hears oral arguments in each case, but does not accept live testimony.
Appeal Process—Most cases appealed from higher courts go directly to the Court of Appeals, although certain specific types of cases go directly to the Supreme Court (see Supreme Court).
Divisions—The Court of Appeals is divided into three divisions. Each division serves a specific geographic area of the state. Division I, located at the One Union Square Building in downtown Seattle, has 10 judges. Division II in Tacoma has seven judges. Division III has five judges and is located in downtown Spokane.
Judges-The Court's 22 judges serve staggered six-year terms to ensure that all judges are not re-elected at the same time. Each division is divided into three geographic districts and a specific number of judges must be elected from each:
Division I Seattle
District 1-King County, from which seven judges are to be elected.
District 2-Snohomish County, from which two judges are elected.
District 3-Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties elect one judge.
Division II Tacoma
District 1-Pierce County, from which three judges are elected.
District 2-Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason and Thurston counties, from which two judges are elected.
District 3-Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties, from which two judges are elected.
Division III Spokane
District 1-Ferry, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane and Stevens counties, from which two judges are elected.
District 2-Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Walla Walla and Whitman Counties, from which one judge is elected.
District 3-Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties, from which two judges are elected.
To qualify for an office on the Court of Appeals, a person must have practiced law in the state of Washington for five years and, at the time of election, reside for one year or more in the district from which the office was chosen. Vacancies are filled by the governor and the nominee serves until the next general election.
A presiding chief judge for all three divisions is elected for a one-year term. The chief presiding judge's duties include coordinating business matters between the three divisions. Each division elects its own chief judge to handle division-level administrative details.
Court of Appeal Support Staff
Clerk of the Court—Appointed by the court, the clerk is its main administrative officer. The clerk is responsible for filing and plans, organizes and supervises the administration of the registry office, manages court facilities and sets court calendars.
Commissioner-Judges in each division also appoint commissioners who decide some motions that come to court. Commissioners also perform additional functions that promote the effective administration of the court.
Clerks -Each judge is assisted by clerks trained in the law. Clerks research the law and help write court opinions.
The Supreme Court
The STF is the highest court in the state. Their opinions are published, become state law, and set precedents for subsequent cases decided in Washington.
The Court has original jurisdiction for petitions against state officials and may review lower court decisions if the money or property value involved exceeds $200. The $200 limitation is not in effect if the case involves a question of legality of a tax, levy, assessment, toll or municipal fine, or the validity of a statute.
Direct Supreme Court review of a lower court decision is permitted if the action involves a state official, a lower court has found a statute or ordinance unconstitutional, conflicting statutes or legal rules are involved, or the issue is of broad public interest and require immediate and definitive determination.Allcases where the death penalty has been imposed are reviewed directly by the Supreme Court. In all other cases, review of Court of Appeals decisions is left to the discretion of the court.
Motions to be determined by the Court and petitions for review of Court of Appeals decisions are heard by departments of five Court members. A less than unanimous vote on a petition requires the entire court to consider the matter.
All nine judges hear and adjudicate cases discussed on the appeals schedule. Each case is decided on the basis of the record in addition to written and oral arguments. Exhibitions are generally not permitted and no live testimony is heard.
Court Rules—The Supreme Court is the final rule-making authority for all state courts. Although local courts make their own rules of procedure, those rules must conform or not conflict with those established by the Supreme Court. In addition, the Supreme Court has administrative responsibility for the operation of the state court system. He also has an oversight responsibility over certain activities of theWashington State Bar Association, including attorney disciplinary matters.
Judges-The nine Supreme Court justices are elected to six-year terms. Each term is staggered to maintain courtroom continuity. The only requirement for the office is that the future judge be admitted to practice law in the state of Washington. Vacancies are filled by appointment of the governor until the next general election.
Supreme Court Support Staff
probation officer-A court-appointed official, the bailiff announces the opening of each court session and performs a variety of other duties as required by the court.
Attendant-Appointed by the court, the Clerk of the Supreme Court maintains court records, files, and documents. The scrivener is also responsible for managing the flow of court cases, including preparing their calendars, arranging forpro has(temporary) judges and archiving of all cases and archived documents.
The Registrar provides attorneys, opposing counsel, and other appropriate attorneys with copies of Supreme Court summaries and records admissions of attorneys to practice law in the state of Washington. The clerk also decides on costs in each case decided by the court, and may also decide on a number of other procedural remedies. The clerk is assisted by an assistant clerk and support staff.
Commissioner-The commissioner, also appointed by the court, decides those types of motions, which are not required by rule of the court to be decided by the ministers. Calleddecisions, these decisions are subject to review by the court. The commissioner also heads the court's core team. The Commissioner and other core staff attorneys assist the court in triaging cases to determine which should be accepted for full hearing. The court is asked to hear more than 1,000 cases each year, although only a small portion of them can be accepted.
Court Administrator—The administrator of the Washington courts is appointed by the Supreme Court and is responsible for enforcing policy and administrative rules in the Washington court system. With the help of a support team, the administrator compiles court statistics; develops and promotes modern management procedures to accommodate the needs of state courts; studies and evaluates information relating to the functioning and administrative methods of the judicial system; and provides relevant information to members of the judicial community, other branches of government, and the general public. The administrator's staff also prepares and presents budgetary and accounting estimates related to state allocations to the court system.
Decision Rapporteur—Appointed by the Federal Supreme Court, the decision rapporteur is responsible for preparing the decisions of the Federal Supreme Court and the Court of Justice for publication. Decisions are published in weekly “advance sheets” and in permanent volumes ofWashington ReportseWashington Appeal Reports.
Law Clerk—Law clerks primarily provide research and writing assistance to judges.
Legal Librarian—The state law librarian is appointed by the Supreme Court to maintain a complete and up-to-date law library.
How Washington Courts Are Funded
Funds to support Washington's courts come from state and local sources.
State Sources—Only a small part of the state government's total cost of operation is devoted to the courts. Judicial operations directly financed by the state include those of the Supreme Court (including the Supreme Court Clerk, the Rapporteur of Decisions, the State Library of Law and the Administrative Office of the Courts), the Court of Appeals, half of the salaries and benefits of judges higher court judges and a smaller share of district court judges' salaries.
Local sources—As is the case at the state level, the amount spent to support local courts is small relative to expenditures made for other municipal and district government operations. Although local governments fund most of the state's court system, during the last few years these expenditures have accounted for only about six percent of all funds spent by local governments. Local funds support the cost of court administration, juries, local law libraries, court facilities, civil procedure services, and witness expenses.
The Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct was created to investigate allegations of misconduct or incompetence by a judge. Its composition is composed of two lawyers, three judges and six non-lawyers.
Any person, organization or association may file oral or written allegations of misconduct. These are reviewed by the Commission to see if the Judicial Code of Conduct has been violated or if there is any permanent disability.
As the Commission does not have the authority to modify court decisions, objections to a given official legal action will not normally trigger Commission action. The Commission's power is limited to two areas: (1) misconduct, as defined by the Code of Judicial Conduct, and (2) disability that is, or is likely to become, serious enough to interfere with a judge's official duties.
If misconduct is found, the Commission may admonish, reprimand, or censure the judge, or it may recommend to the Supreme Court that the judge be suspended or removed. Like a trial, the Commission's fact-finding hearings are held in public. The Supreme Court has an appeal to review the Commission's decision or, in the case of a Commission recommendation, the Court makes the final decision after reviewing the Commission's record and arguing the matter.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
A Guide to Washington State Courtsis supported in part by a grant from the Law and Society Program of the Open Society Institute and the League of Women Voters of the Washington Education Fund.
Previous editions of this guide were published in 1979, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2008 by the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). Revisions are made regularly.
Note to educators:
Definitions of court terms in italics used in this guide are included in supplementary text,A Guide to Terms Used in the Court of Washington,an exclusively online publication. online copies ofA guide to termseA Guide to Washington State Courtsare available and can be downloaded from the Washington Courthouse home page atwww.courts.wa.gov,clicking on “Resources, Publications and Reports” and scrolling down to “Fact Sheets”.
ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS
(a)Policy and Purpose. It is the policy of the courts to facilitate access to court records as provided in Article I, Section 10 of the Washington State Constitution. Access to court records is not absolute and must be consistent with reasonable expectations of personal privacy as provided in Article 1, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, and must not unduly burden the business of the courts.
(b)Scope. This rule applies to all court records, regardless of the physical form of the court record, the method of recording the court record, or the method of storing the court record. Administrative records are not within the scope of this rule. Court records are still governed by GR 22.
(1) “Access” means the ability to view or obtain a copy of a court record.
(2) “Administrative record” means any record pertaining to the management, supervision or administration of the judiciary, including any court, board or committee appointed by or under the direction of any court or other entity within the judiciary, or the office of any county clerk.
(3) “Mass distribution” means the distribution of all, or a significant subset, of the information in court records, as is and without modification.
(4) "Court Record" includes, but is not limited to:
(i) Any document, information, exhibit or otherwise held by a court in connection with a court proceeding, and
(ii) Any index, calendar, summary, record of actions, official record of proceedings, order, decree, judgment, minutes and any information in a case management system created or prepared by the court that relates to a legal proceeding. The court record does not include data kept by or for a judge pertaining to a particular case or party, such as personal notes and communications, memos, drafts or other working papers; or information collected, held or stored by a government agency or other entity to which the court has access but which is not recorded.
(5) “Criminal justice bodies” are government bodies that perform criminal justice functions pursuant to statute or executive order and that allocate a substantial portion of their annual budget to these functions.
(6) “Disclosure Agreement” means an agreement between a court records provider and any person or entity other than a Washington state court (Supreme court, appeals court, superior court, district court, or municipal court) that receives court records. The essential elements of a disclosure agreement must be enacted by the JIS Committee.
(7) “Judicial Information System (JIS) Committee” is the committee that oversees the statewide judicial information system. The court information system is the statewide, centralized, automated information system that serves the state courts.
(8) “Judge” means a judicial officer as defined in the Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC) Enforcement of Section (A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
(9) “Public” includes an individual, partnership, joint venture, public or private corporation, federal, state, or local government association, entity, or agency, regardless of its constitution, or any other organization or group of persons, regardless of its organization .
(10) “Public Purpose Agency” means government agencies included within the definition of “agency” in RCW 42.17.020 and other not-for-profit organizations whose primary function is to provide services to the public.
(1) The public shall have access to all court records, except as restricted by federal law, state law, court, except as restricted by federal law, state law, court rule, court order, or case law.
(2) Each court, by action of a majority of the judges, may, from time to time, make and amend local rules governing access to court records that are not inconsistent with this rule.
(3) A fee may not be charged to view court records in court.
(e)Personal identifiers omitted or redacted from court records
(1) Unless otherwise provided in GR 22, parties must not include, and if present, write, the following personal identifiers in all documents filed with the court, whether filed electronically or on paper, unless required or ordered by the Court.
(A) Social Security Numbers. If the CPF of an individual must be included in a document, only the last four digits of that number must be used.
(B) Financial account numbers. If financial account numbers are relevant, only the last four digits should be recited on the document.
(C) Driver's license numbers
(2) Responsibility for writing these personal identifiers rests solely with counsel and the parties. The Court or Registrar will not review each petition for compliance with this rule. If a petition is filed without wording, the opposing party or identified person may ask the Court to order the wording. The court may award the prevailing party reasonable expenses, including attorneys' fees and court costs, incurred in filing or opposing the motion.
COMMENTARY This rule does not require any party, attorney, clerk, or court official to redact information from a court record filed prior to the adoption of this rule.
(f)Distribution of Court Records Not Accessible to the Public
(1) A public purpose agency may request court records not accessible to the public for academic, government or research purposes, where the identification of specific individuals is auxiliary to the purpose of the inquiry. To grant such requests, the court or the Administrator of Courts must:
(i) the extent to which access will result in efficient operation of the judiciary;
(ii) the extent to which access will fulfill a legislative mandate;
(iii) the extent to which access will result in efficiency in other parts of the justice system; It is
(iv) the risks created by allowing access.
(B) Determine, in its sole discretion, that completing the application will not violate this rule.
(C) Determine the minimum access to restricted court records necessary for the purpose provided to the applicant.
(D) Ensure that, prior to release of court records pursuant to section (f)(1), the applicant has signed a disclosure agreement that includes terms and conditions that:
(i) require the applicant to specify provisions for the secure protection of any data that is confidential;
(ii) prohibit the disclosure of data in any form that identifies an individual;
(iii) prohibit the copying, duplication or disclosure of information or data provided for purposes other than those stated; It is
(iv) keep a record of any distribution of court records that will be open and available for audit by the court or the Administrator of Courts. Any audit must verify that court records are being used appropriately and consistently with this rule.
(2) Courts, court clerks, clerks and administrative staff and the Commission on Judicial Conduct may access and use court records only for purposes of conducting official court business.
(3) Criminal justice agencies may request court records not accessible to the public.
(A) The court records provider must approve the level of access and permitted use for classes of criminal justice agencies, including, but not limited to, law enforcement, prosecutors, and corrections. An agency that is not included in a class can request access.
(B) Agencies requesting access under this section of the rule must identify the requested court records and the proposed use of the court records.
(C) Access by criminal justice agencies will be governed by a disclosure agreement. The contract must:
(i) specify the data to which access is granted;
(ii) specify the agency's uses of the data; It is
(iii) include the agency's agreement that its employees will access the data only for specified uses.
(g)Mass Distribution of Judicial Records
(1) A JIS Committee approved disclosure and liability agreement for JIS records or a court clerk approved disclosure and liability agreement for local records must accompany all mass distribution of court records.
(2) A request for mass distribution of court records may be denied if providing the information would create an undue burden on court operations or court staff due to the amount of equipment, materials, staff time, computer time, or otherwise. resources needed to satisfy the request.
(3) The use of mass-distributed records for the purpose of commercial solicitation of individuals named in the records is prohibited.
(h)Appeals. Appeals from denials of access to JIS records maintained at the state level will be governed by the rules and policies established by the JIS Committee.
(I noticed. The Administrator of Courts should develop a method for notifying the public about access to court records and restrictions on access.
(j)Access to juror information. Individual juror information other than name is presumed to be private. Upon completion of a jury trial, a party's attorney, or pro se party, or member of the public may apply to the trial court for access to individual juror information under the court's control. Upon demonstration of just cause, the court may allow the petitioner access to relevant information. The court may require that juror information not be disclosed to others.
(k)Access to the list of main jury sources. Main jury source list information other than name and address is considered private. Upon demonstration of good cause, the court may allow a petitioner access to relevant information on the list. The court may require that the information not be disclosed to others.
[Adopted October 26, 2004; amended as of January 3, 2006.]
ACCESS TO ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS
(a) Policy and Purpose.Consistent with the principles of the open administration of justice as provided for in Article I, Section 10 of the Washington State Constitution, it is the policy of the judiciary to facilitate access to administrative records. The presumption of access applies to judicial administrative records. Access to administrative records, however, is not absolute and must be consistent with personal privacy exemptions, restrictions in statute, restrictions in court rules, and as required for the integrity of judicial decision-making. Access must not unduly burden the business of the judiciary.
(b) Overview of Public Access to Court Records.There are three categories of court records.
(1) Case records are records relating to court proceedings, including case files, precedents, calendars and the like. Public access to these records is governed by GR 31, which refers to these records as “court records”, rather than this GR 31.1. Under GR 31, these records are presumably open to public access, subject to stated exceptions.
(2) Administrative records are records relating to the management, supervision or administration of a court or judicial agency. A more specific definition of “administrative records” is in section (i) of this rule. Pursuant to section (j) of this rule, administrative records are presumably open to public access, subject to the exceptions found in sections (j) and (eu) of this rule.
(3) Chamber records are records controlled and maintained by a judge's chambers. A more specific definition of this term is in section (m) of this rule. In section (m), the chambers' records are not open to public access.
PROCEDURES FOR ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS
(c) Procedures for Requesting Registrations.
(1) COURTS AND JUDICIAL AGENCIES TO TAKE PROCEEDINGS. Each court and judicial agency must adopt a policy implementing this rule and establishing its procedures for accepting and responding to requests for administrative records. The policy must include the designation of a public records officer and must require that requests from the identified individual or, if an entity, an identified entity representative, be submitted in writing to the designated public records officer. Best practices for handling requests for administrative records will be developed under the authority of the Judicial Administration Board.
COMMENT: In adopting policies and procedures, courts and law enforcement agencies will need to carefully consider many issues, including the extent to which court officials may use personal computers and other media devices to conduct official business and the extent to which the court or agency will rely on the individual employee to search their personally owned media devices for documents in response to a request for records. For court officials and your chamber staff, documents on personal media devices may still qualify as chamber records, see section (m) of this rule.
(2) PUBLICATION OF PROCEDURES FOR REQUESTING ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS. Each court and judicial agency must prominently publish procedures for requesting access to its administrative records. If the court or judicial body has a website, the proceedings should be posted there. The publication must include the public records officer's work mailing address, telephone number, fax number, and email address.
(3) INITIAL RESPONSE. Each court and judicial body must initially respond to a written request for access to an administrative record within five working days of receiving it, but for courts that meet infrequently not more than 30 calendar days from of the date of its receipt. The response must acknowledge receipt of the request and include a good faith estimate of the time required to respond to the request. The estimate can be revised later if necessary. For purposes of this rule, “business days” means the days when the court or judicial body, including a part-time municipal court, is open.
(4) COMMUNICATION WITH THE APPLICANT. Each court and judicial agency must communicate with the requester as necessary to clarify the requested records. The court or judicial agency may also communicate with the requester in an effort to determine whether the requester's need would be better met with a response other than the one actually requested.
(5) NOUN ANSWER. Each court and judicial agency must respond to the content of the request for records within the time period specified in the court or judicial agency's initial response to the request. If the court or judicial agency cannot comply in full within that timeframe, the court or judicial agency must comply to the extent possible and provide a new good faith estimate to respond to the remainder of the request. If the court or judicial body does not fully satisfy the request for records in the manner requested, the court or judicial body must justify in writing any deviation from the terms of the request.
(6) EXTRAORDINARY ORDERS LIMITED BY RESOURCE RESTRICTIONS. If a specific request is of a magnitude that the court or judicial body cannot fully respond to within a reasonable time due to time, resource, and personnel constraints of the court or judicial body, the court or judicial body must communicate this information to the requester. The court or judicial body should attempt to reach an agreement with the requester on reducing the request to a more manageable scope and on the time frame for the court or judicial body's response, which may include a timeline for responses in installments. If the court or judicial body and the requestor cannot reach an agreement, the court or judicial body will respond to the extent possible and inform the requestor that the court or judicial body has completed its response.
(7) REQUESTS FOR REGISTRATION INVOLVING HARASSMENT, INTIMIDATION, SECURITY THREATS OR CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. A court or judicial agency may deny a request for records if it determines that: the request was made to harass or intimidate the court or judicial agency or its employees; complying with the request would likely threaten the security of the court or judicial body; complying with the request would likely threaten the safety of bailiffs, employees, family members of bailiffs or employees, or anyone else; or fulfilling the request may aid in criminal activity.
(d) Review of the Registry Decision.
(1) NOTICE OF REVIEW PROCEDURES. The public records officer's response to a public records request must include a written summary of the procedures under which the requesting party may request further review.
(2) DEADLINE TO SEEK INTERNAL REVIEW. A registrant's petition under section (d)(3) seeking internal review of a public records officer's decision must be filed within 90 days of the public records officer's decision.
(3) INTERNAL REVIEW AT COURT OR AGENCY. Each court and judicial agency must provide a method for review by the director of the judicial agency, presiding judge, or judge designated by the presiding judge. For a judicial agency, the presiding judge will be the presiding judge of the court that oversees the agency. The court or judicial agency may also establish intermediate levels of review. The court or judicial body shall make the applicable forms publicly available. The review process is informal and summary. The review process must be completed within five working days, but for courts that meet infrequently no more than 30 calendar days from the date the court or agency receives the request for review. If this is not reasonably possible within five business days, the review will be scheduled for the earliest practical date.
(4) EXTERNAL REVIEW. Upon exhaustion of remedies under section (d)(3), a registrant aggrieved by a court or agency decision may obtain further review by choosing between the two alternatives set forth in subsections (i) and (ii) of this section. (d)(4).
(i) REVIEW THROUGH CIVIL ACTION IN COURT. The applicant may resort to a writ of mandamus, prohibition or certiorari to file a public civil action at a higher court questioning the decision in the file.
COMMENT: Subsection (i) does not create any new legal remedies, but only recognizes existing procedures for bringing a civil action in court.
(ii) INFORMAL REVIEW BY VISITING JUDGE OR OTHER EXTERNAL DECISION-MAKER. The requesting person may seek informal review by a person outside the court or judicial agency. If the requesting person requests the review of a decision made by a court or a judicial body directly subordinate to a court, the external review will be carried out by a visiting court official. If the requesting person requests the review of a decision made by a judicial body that is not directly reportable to a court, the external review will be carried out by a person agreed between the requesting person and the judicial body. If the requesting person and the judicial agency cannot agree on an individual, the presiding judge of the superior court in the county in which the judicial agency is located will conduct the review or appoint a person to conduct the review. The review process should be informal and summary. The decision resulting from the informal review process may be reviewed in a higher court by means of a writ of mandamus, prohibition or certiorari. Decisions made by a judge under this subsection (ii) form part of the judicial function.
(iii) TIME LIMIT TO SEEK EXTERNAL REVIEW. A request for external review must be filed within 30 days after the court or judicial body's final decision is issued pursuant to section (d)(3).
(e) Monetary prizes not allowed.Attorney fees, costs, civil penalties or fines cannot be awarded under this rule.
(f) Persons Subject to Registration.
(1) Unless required or prohibited by law, a court or judicial agency has the option of notifying a person named in a record, or to whom a record specifically belongs, that access to the record has been requested.
(2) A person named in a record, or to whom a record specifically belongs, may submit information objecting to disclosure to the applicable decision maker in sections (c) and (d).
(3) If a court or judicial agency decides to allow access to a requested record, a person named in that record, or to whom the record specifically belongs, has the right to initiate review under subsections (d)(3)-( 4) or to participate as part of any review initiated by an applicant under subsections (d)(3)-(4). If the registration holder or registrant objects to the informal review pursuant to subsection (d)(4)(ii), no such alternative is available. The deadlines applicable to an applicant also apply to a person holding a registration.
(g) Tribunal eJudiciary Agency Rules.Each court may, from time to time, make and amend local rules governing access to administrative records not inconsistent with this rule. Each judicial agency may, from time to time, make and amend agency rules governing access to its administrative records not inconsistent with this rule.
(h) Collection of Fees.
(1) A fee may not be charged to view administrative records, except that the applicant may be charged for the research necessary to locate, obtain, or prepare the records at the fee set forth in section (h)(4).
(2) A fee may be charged for photocopying or scanning administrative records. If another rule or statute of the court specifies the fee amount for a particular type of record, that rule or statute will govern. Otherwise, the fee amount cannot exceed the amount authorized in the Public Records Act, chapter 42.56 RCW.
(3) The court or judicial agency may require a deposit in an amount not to exceed the estimated cost of providing copies for an application. If a court or judicial body makes an application available in part or in installments, the court or judicial body may charge for each part of the order as it is provided. If a portion of a request for records is not claimed or reviewed within 30 days, the court or judicial agency is not obligated to honor the balance of the request.
(4) A fee not exceeding $30 per hour may be charged for research and preparation services required to fulfill a request that takes longer than one hour. The fee will be charged from the second hour.
COMMENT: The authority to charge for research services is discretionary, allowing courts to balance the conflicting interests between recovering the costs of their response and ensuring the open administration of justice. The fee must not exceed actual response costs.
(5) A court or judicial agency may require payment of fees in advance.
APPLICATION OF THE STANDARD FOR ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS
This rule applies to all administrative records, regardless of the physical form of the record, the method of recording the record, or the method of storing the record.
(1) “Access” means the ability to view or obtain a copy of an administrative record.
(2) “Administrative record” means a public record created or maintained by a court or judicial agency and relating to the management, supervision or administration of the court or judicial agency.
COMMENT: The term “administrative record” does not include any of the following: (1) “court records” as defined in GR 31; (2) chamber records as set forth later in this rule; or (3) an attorney's client files that would otherwise be covered by the attorney-client privilege or the attorney-client work product privilege.
(3) “Court record” is defined in GR 31.
(4) “Judge” means a judicial officer as defined in the Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC) Enforcement of Section (A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
(5) “Public” includes an individual, partnership, joint venture, public or private corporation, federal, state, or local government association, entity, or agency, regardless of its constitution, or any other organization or group of persons, regardless of its organization .
(6) "Public record" includes any writing, other than chamber records and court records, containing information relating to government conduct or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used or retained by any court or judicial agency, regardless of shape or physical characteristics. “Public record” also includes metadata for electronic administrative records.
COMMENTARY: See O'Neill v. City of Shoreline, 170 Wn.2d 138, 240 P.3d 1149 (2010) (defining "metadata").
(7) “Writing” means handwriting, typing, printing, pictures, photography and all other means of recording any form of communication or representation, including, but not limited to, letters, words, images, sounds or symbols, or combination thereof, and all paper, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic film and prints, film, film and video recordings, magnetic or punched cards, disks, drums, floppy disks, sound recordings and other documents, including compilations of existing data from which information can be obtained or translated.
COMMENT: E-mails and phone records are included in this broad definition of “writing”.
(j) Administrative Records—General Right of Access.Administrative records of courts and judicial bodies are open to public access, unless access is exempted or prohibited by this rule, other court rules, federal statutes, state statutes, court orders, or case law. To the extent that access to records would be exempt or prohibited if the Public Records Act applied to court administrative records, access is also exempt or prohibited under this rule. To the extent that there is ambiguity as to whether access to records would be exempt or prohibited under this rule or other enumerated sources, respondents and review authorities should be guided by the Public Records Act, chapter 42.56 RCW, when making interpretations under this rule. In addition, to the extent necessary to avoid a significant risk to individual privacy or security interests, a court or judicial agency must delete identifying details consistent with this rule when making available or publishing any public record; however, in each case, justification for deletion must be provided in full in writing.
(k) Entities Subject to the Rule.
(1) This rule applies to the Federal Supreme Court, the Court of Justice, the superior courts, the district and municipal courts and the following judicial bodies:
(i) All judicial organizations overseen by a court, including designated entities such as agencies, departments, committees, boards, commissions, task forces and similar groups;
(ii) Association of Superior Court Judges, Association of District and Municipal Court Judges and similar associations of civil servants and judicial officials
(iii) Washington State Office of Civilian Legal Assistance and Washington State Office of Public Defense; It is
(iv) All subgroups of the entities listed in this section (k)(1).
COMMENT: Elected court officials and their employees are not included in this rule because (1) they are covered by the Public Records Act and (2) they generally do not maintain court administrative records covered by this rule.
(2) This rule does not apply to the Washington State Bar. Public access to Bar Association records is governed by [a proposed General Rule 12.4, pending in the Supreme Court].
(3) A bailiff is not a court or judicial agency.
COMMENT: This provision protects judges and court commissioners from having to personally respond to requests for public records. Instead, requests for records would go to the court's public records officer.
(4) An attorney or entity appointed by a court or judicial agency to provide legal representation to a litigant in a judicial or administrative proceeding does not become a judicial agency by virtue of such appointment.
(5) A person or entity entrusted by a judicial officer, court or judicial agency with the storage and maintenance of its public records, whether part of a judicial agency or a third party, is not a judicial agency. That person or agency may not respond to a request for access to administrative records, in the absence of express written authorization from the court or judicial agency or separate authority in judicial decision to grant access to the documents.
COMMENT: Court emails and other documents sometimes reside on IT servers, some in off-site physical storage facilities. This provision prohibits an entity operating the IT server from disclosing court records. The entity is merely a trustee, holding the records on behalf of a court or judicial agency, rather than an owner of the records with independent authority to release them. Similarly, if a court or judicial agency stores its paper records with another entity, the other entity may not release the records. In any case, it is the court or judicial agency that needs to make the decision to release the records. The request for records must be addressed by the public records officer of the court or judicial agency, not by the person or entity that has control over the IT server or storage area. On the other hand, if a court or judicial agency files its records with the state archivist, contractually waiving its own authority over the disposition of the records, the archivist would have separate authority to release the records.
Due to the broad definition of this “public record” rule, this paragraph (6) would apply to electronic records such as emails (and their metadata) and telephone records, among a wide range of other records.
(l) Exemptions.In addition to the exemptions mentioned in section (j), the following categories of administrative records are exempt from public access:
(1) Requests for judicial ethics opinions;
(2) Minutes of meetings held exclusively between judges, together with any team;
COMMENT: Meeting minutes do not always contain information that needs to be hidden from public view. Courts are free to release minutes of meetings, because an exemption from this rule only means that a document need not be released. Disclosure would be appropriate if the document does not contain information of a confidential, sensitive or protected nature. Courts and judicial bodies are encouraged to carefully consider whether some or all of the minutes of their meetings should be open to public access. The adoption of a local rule on this matter would help the public to know which types of minutes are accessible and which are not.
(3) Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, and intra-agency memos in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended are exempt under this rule, except that a specific record is not exempt when publicly cited by a court or agency in connection with any court action or agency. This exemption applies to a registry only while a final decision on the matter being addressed in that registry is pending; Once the final decision has been taken, the registration is no longer covered by this exemption. For purposes of documents relating to budget negotiations with a budgetary authority, the “final decision” is the budgetary authority's decision to adopt the budget for that year or biennium.
(4) Assessments and recommendations relating to candidates seeking appointment or employment with a court or judicial body;
COMMENT: Paragraph (4) is intended to cover documents such as those of the Supreme Court Committee of Capital Lawyers, which evaluates lawyers for possible inclusion on a list of lawyers especially qualified to represent clients in capital cases.
(5) Personally Identifiable Information, including individuals' residential contact information, social security numbers, date of birth, driver's license numbers, and identification/security photographs;
(6) Documents relating to an attorney's request for a trial or defense expert from the appellate court, investigator or other services, any report or findings submitted to the attorney or court or judicial agency by the expert, investigator or other service provider, and the billing of the expert, investigator or other service provider during the pendency of proceedings in any court. Payment records are not exempt as long as they do not include medical records, attorney's work product, information protected by attorney-client privilege, information sealed by a court, or other exempt information;
(7) Documents, records, files, investigative notes and reports, including the complaint and the identity of the complainant, associated with a court or judicial agency's internal investigation of a claim against the court or judicial agency or its contractors during the course of the investigation . The outcome of the court or judicial body's investigation is not exempt;
(9) Family Court Mediation Files; It is
(10) Juvenile Court Probation Social Files.
(11) Those portions of records that contain specific and unique vulnerability assessments or specific and unique emergency and escape response plans, the disclosure of which would have a substantial likelihood of threatening the security of a court facility or the safety of any individual.
(12) The following Certified Professional Guardian Board records:
(i) Investigative records compiled by the Board as a result of an investigation conducted by the Board as part of the application process, while a disciplinary investigation is ongoing under the Board's rules and regulations, or as a result of any other investigation conducted by the Board while an investigation is ongoing. Investigative records relating to a complaint become open to public inspection once the investigation is complete.
(ii) Deliberative records compiled by the Board or by a Board panel or committee as part of a disciplinary process.
(iii) A complaint will be open for public access, along with any response to the complaint filed by the professional guardian or agency, once the investigation into the complaint has been completed or a decision has been made that no investigation will be conducted. The name of the professional guardian or agency must not be removed from the complaint.
(m) Clearing House Records.Chambers records are not administrative records and are not subject to disclosure.
COMMENT: Access to chamber records may require a court official to review all records to guard against disclosure of case-sensitive information or other information that would interfere with the independence of judicial decision-making. This would effectively make the bailiff a de facto public records officer and could greatly interfere with judicial functions.
(1) “Chambers Record” means any writing that is created or maintained by any judicial officer or chambers personnel and is kept under the control of the chambers, whether directly relating to official court proceedings, court administration or other activities of the chambers. “Chamber Staff” means the clerk of a bailiff, the administrative staff of a bailiff and any other personnel who provide direct support to the bailiff in the chambers.
COMMENT: Some judicial officials, particularly in small jurisdictions, divide their time between performing chamber functions and performing other judicial functions. An employee may be “chamber people” in certain roles but not in others. Whether certain records are subject to disclosure may depend on whether the employee was acting in an administrative staff role or an administrative staff role in connection with that record.
Records can remain under the control of the chambers even if they are stored elsewhere. For example, records relating to chamber activities that are stored on a computer personally owned or assigned to a judge's workplace, laptop, cell phone, and similar electronic devices would still be chamber records. As another example, records stored for the court chambers on external servers would still be under the control of the chambers in the same way as if the records were stored directly in the chambers. However, records that are subject to disclosure must not be moved to the control of clearinghouses as a means of preventing disclosure.
(2) Court records and administrative records do not become chamber records merely because they are in the possession or custody of a court clerk or clerk of the chamber.
COMMENT: Chamber records do not change in character by virtue of being accessible to other chambers. For example, a database that is shared by multiple judges and their chamber members is a “chamber record” for the purposes of this rule, provided the database is being used only by judges and their chamber members.
IMPLEMENTATION AND EFFECTIVE DATE
(n) Best Practices.Best practice guidelines adopted by the Supreme Court can be used to act on public requests for documents.
(o) Rule Effective Date.
(1) This rule will enter into force at a future date to be determined by the Supreme Court based on the recommendation of the Board of Judicial Administration. The rule will apply to records created from that date onwards.
COMMENT: A delayed effective date is being used to allow time for best practice development, training and implementation. The effective date will be added to the rule as soon as it is determined.
(2) Public access to records created before that date must be reviewed under other court rules, applicable statutes, and the common law balance test. The Public Records Act chapter 42.56 RCW does not apply to court records but can be used for non-binding guidance.
[Adopted effective January 1, 2016.]
Court processes and proceedings are administered through rules created by the Washington state court system. General Rule 15 describes how court records are managed.
Rule 15 of the General Court
Destruction, Sealing and Writing of Judicial Records
Purpose and Scope of the Standard:This rule establishes a uniform procedure for the destruction, sealing and redaction of court records. This rule applies to all court records, regardless of the physical form of the court record, the method of recording the court record, or the method of storing the court record.
(1) “Court File” means the petitions, orders and other documents filed with the court clerk under a single number or consolidated case numbers.
(2) “Court Record” is defined in General Rule 31(c)(4).
(3) Destroy: Destroy means to obliterate a court record or file so as to render it permanently irretrievable. A motion or order to purge shall be treated as a motion or order to destroy.
(4) Seal: To seal means to protect from scrutiny by the public and unauthorized judicial personnel. A motion or order to delete, purge, remove, extirpate or erase or redact shall be treated as a motion or order to seal.
(5) Redact: Redact means to protect from scrutiny by the public and unauthorized court personnel a part or parts of a particular court record.
(6) Restricted personal identifiers are defined in GR 22(b)(6).
(7) Strike: A motion or order to strike is not a motion or order to seal or destroy.
(8) Vacate: Vacate means to annul or cancel.
Seal or Redact Judicial Records:
(1) In a civil proceeding, the court or any party may request a hearing to seal or redact the court records. In a criminal case or juvenile case, the court, any party or any interested person may request a hearing to seal or redact the court records. Reasonable notice of a hearing to seal must be given to all parties to the case. In a criminal case, reasonable notice of a hearing to seal or redact must also be given to the victim, if possible, and to the person or agency having probation, custody, community placement or community supervision over the affected adult or youth. Such notice is not required for motions to seal documents entered pursuant to Rule 3.1(f) of the Court or CrRLJ 3.1(f).
(2) After the hearing, the court may order the proceedings and records of the case, or any part thereof, to be sealed or redacted if the court makes and enters written findings that the particular sealing or redaction is justified by compelling privacy identified or security concerns that outweigh the public interest in accessing court records. The agreement of the parties alone does not constitute a sufficient basis for sealing or redrafting court records. Sufficient privacy or security concerns that may be weighed against the public interest include findings that:
(A) Sealing or redaction is permitted by law; or
(B) The seal or redaction furthers an order entered under CR 12(f) or a protective order entered under Rule 26(c) of the Court; or
(C) A conviction was overturned; or
(D) The seal or redaction promotes an order entered in accordance with RCW 4.24.611; or
(E) Wording includes only restricted personal identifiers contained in the court record; or
(F) There is another identified compelling circumstance that requires sealing or redaction.
(3) A court record shall not be sealed under this section when the newsroom properly resolves matters before the court pursuant to subsection (2) above.
(4) Sealing the entire court file: When the clerk receives a court order to seal the entire court file, he must seal the court file and protect it from public access. All subsequently filed court records must also be sealed, unless otherwise ordered. The existence of a court case in its entirety, unless protected by law, is available for public viewing in court indexes. Information on court indices is limited to the case number, names of parties, the mention “case filed”, the type of case and cause of action in civil cases and the cause of action or prosecution in criminal cases, except when the conviction in a criminal case has been overturned, section (d) shall apply. The sealing order and the written conclusions that support the sealing order will also remain accessible to the public, unless protected by law.
(5) Sealing of Specified Court Records: When the clerk receives a court order to seal specified court records, the clerk shall:
(A) Keep in the records the code of the records, the title of the document, the number of the document or sub-document and the date of the original records;
(B) Remove the specified court records, seal them and return them to the archive under the seal or store them separately. The clerk will replace a fill-in sheet with the removed sealed court record. If the ordered court record exists on microfilm, microfiche, or other non-paper storage medium, the clerk must restrict access to the alternate storage medium to prevent unauthorized viewing of the sealed court record; It is
(C) File the sealing order and the written findings that support the sealing order. Both must be accessible to the public.
(D) Before a court file is made available for examination, the clerk shall withhold access to the sealed court record.
(6) Procedures for Redacted Court Records: When a court record is drawn up pursuant to a court order, the original court record must be replaced in the public file of the court with the redacted copy. The edited copy must be provided by the moving party. The original unedited court record shall be sealed in accordance with the procedures set forth in (c)(5).
Procedures for overturned criminal convictions:
In cases where the criminal conviction has been overturned and the sealing order issued, the information in the court's public indexes will be limited to the case number, case type with the notification “DV” if the case involves domestic violence, the adult or teenager's name and the notation "unoccupied".
Grounds and procedure for requesting the opening of sealed records:
(1) Confidential court records may be viewed by the public only after the court records are released in accordance with this section or after the entry of a court order allowing access to a confidential court record.
(2) Criminal Proceedings: A sealed court record in a criminal proceeding shall be ordered opened only upon evidence of compelling circumstances, unless otherwise provided by law, and only upon motion and written notice to the persons entitled to notice under subsection ( c) (1) of this rule, except:
(A) If a new criminal charge is brought and the existence of the conviction contained in a sealed record is an element of the new crime, or constitutes a legal improvement of the sentence, or provides the basis for an exceptional sentence, upon the application of prosecution, the court will overturn the sealing order in the previous sealed case(s).
(B) If a petition is filed alleging that a person is a sexually violent predator, at the request of the prosecuting attorney, the court will overturn the order barring all criminal records of that individual.
(3) Civil Proceedings: A court record sealed in a civil case shall be ordered opened only upon stipulation of all parties or upon written motion and notice to all parties and proof that the compelling circumstances identified for the continuation of the sealing do not there are more, or in accordance with RCW 4.24 or CR 26(j). If the person seeking access cannot locate a party to provide the notice required by this rule, after making a reasonable good faith effort to provide such notice as required by the Superior Court Rules, an affidavit may be filed with the court stating efforts to locate the party and request waiver of the notice provided for in this rule. The court may waive the notification requirement of this rule if the court considers that further good faith efforts to locate the party are unlikely to be successful.
(4) Juvenile Cases: Inspection of a sealed juvenile court record is permitted only by court order upon motion by the person who is the subject of the record, except as otherwise provided in RCW 13.50.010(8) and 13.50. 050(23). Any adjudication of a juvenile misdemeanor or a felony subsequent to sealing has the effect of nullifying the sealing order pursuant to RCW 13.50.050(16).
Maintenance of sealed court records:
Sealed court records are subject to the provisions of RCW 36.23.065 and may be maintained on media other than paper.
Use of Sealed Records on Appeal:
A court record or any part thereof, sealed in the court of first instance, shall be made available to the court of appeal in case of appeal. Court records sealed in the lower court must be sealed from public access in the appellate court, subject to further order of the appellate court.
Destruction of Judicial Records:
(1) The court will not order the destruction of any court record unless expressly permitted by law. The court must enter written findings that cite statutory authority for the destruction of the court record.
(2) In a civil proceeding, the court or any party may request a hearing to destroy court records only if there is express statutory authority permitting the destruction of court records. In a criminal or juvenile proceeding, the court, any party or any interested person may request a hearing to destroy the court records only if there is express statutory authority permitting the destruction of the court records. Reasonable notice of the hearing to destroy must be given to all parties to the case. In a criminal case, reasonable notice of the hearing should also be given to the victim, if possible, and to the person or agency that has probation, custody, community placement or community supervision over the affected adult or juvenile.
(3) When the clerk receives a court order to destroy all court records, the clerk shall:
(A) Remove all references to court records from any applicable information systems maintained for or by the clerk, except for accounting records, the order of destruction, and written conclusions. The destruction order and supporting written findings must be archived and made available for public viewing.
(B) Accounting records must be sealed.
(4) When the clerk receives a court order to destroy specific court records, the clerk shall:
(A) On the automated scoresheet, destroy any scoresheet code information except any document or subdocument number previously assigned to the destroyed court record, and enter “Order Destroyed” for the scoresheet entry;
(B) Destroy the appropriate records, substituting, where applicable, a printed or other reference to the destruction order, including the date, place and document number of the destruction order; It is
(C) File the destruction order and written findings that support the destruction order. Both the order and the conclusions must be accessible to the public.
(5) This subsection will not preclude the routine destruction of court records in accordance with applicable preservation and retention schedules.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this rule, evidence may be destroyed or returned to the parties if all parties so stipulate in writing and the court so determines.
Effect on other statutes:
Nothing in this rule is intended to restrict or expand the authority of clerks under existing statutes, nor is anything in this rule intended to restrict or expand the authority of any public auditor or Commission on Judicial Conduct in exercising the duties conferred by statute.
[Adopted September 22, 1989; amended effective September 1, 1995; June 4, 1997; June 16, 1998; September 1, 2000; October 1, 2002; July 1, 2006; April 28, 2015.]
Accessing the Washington Courts
Opinions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals:
The Washington State Courts:
Washington Municipal Courts:
Washington Superior Courts
Washington District Courts:
District court rules, including access:
Public Trust and Confidence Committee
Achieve the highest possible level of public trust and confidence in the Washington judicial system.
Assess the level of public trust in the Washington judicial system and develop strategies to increase that trust and confidence.
To catalog potential and current activities that promote public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
Identify areas where public trust and confidence is lacking and prioritize these needs for consideration by the committee.
Develop and disseminate tools and resources to meet these needs.
Encourage and monitor the use of tools and resources developed by the committee.
Collaborate with other individuals and groups working to improve public confidence.