Are Washington Court Records Public?
The Washington Public Records Act is the general name for a series of laws that guarantees access to government bodies’ public records at various levels in Washington. The State of Washington voters adopted it in 1972. This law ensures that individuals may request any government agency records without providing a statement of purpose. In keeping with the law, Washington Court Records are public records and can be requested by any member of the public.
Court records refer to information, documents, exhibits, and every other material in connection to a trial or judicial proceeding. These records could be decrees, calendars, orders, judgment, index, etc. While the state encourages public records to be disclosed to the public, the law allows some information to be restricted. The exemptions include patient or personal student information, some investigative information, and employee files. Generally, the law forbids public access to all court records restricted by court order, court rule, case law, state law, or federal law.
How Do I Find Court Records in Washington?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Washington is to send in requests to the courthouse where the case was filed. This request can be initiated by mail or emails, in person, or via an online portal. Typically, court records are maintained by the Office of the Court Clerk.
For in-person requests, interested persons may contact the Clerk of the Court maintaining the court records. The procedures for viewing or copying a court record may vary from one court to another. The requester may have to reach out to the particular court clerk involved to obtain court-specific instructions on how to access court records. The Court Directory provided on the Washington State Courts’ website enlists addresses and phone numbers for different courts. Other important information such as maps and directions and fax are also contained in the court directory.
To request court records by mail or email, requesters may obtain the court’s mail or e-mail information via the Court Directory. Such information may also be accessed via the local courts’ websites. For online access to court records, requesters may visit the Odyssey Portal. The Odyssey web portal is a Superior Courts Management System implemented by the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts in 2008.
The portal grants access to court records and documents filed in the Superior Courts using the Case Management System. However, not all Superior Courts’ records are accessible via the portal. Records unavailable from the Odyssey portal may be obtained directly from the corresponding court clerks.
Requesters may access information on the portal either as registered or non-registered users. Non-registered users of the Odyssey portal can only access case information that is not sealed or confidential. To obtain court records without registration, users may visit the Smart Search facility on the portal and follow the prompts. Documents are only accessible to registered users, so non-registered users may contact the County Clerk office to obtain copies.
To register on the portal, click on the “Register / Sign” button at the portal’s top right and click on Register. This will prompt a page enlisting the contact details of all the Superior Court clerks in the different counties in the state. Users are required to contact the appropriate clerk for access and fee information. Registered users may be charged a registration and document access fee as determined by the county involved. The fees are paid directly to the county clerk, who also authorizes registrations on the portal.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through traditional government sources and third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. To gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How Do Washington State Courts Work?
Washington State Courts are responsible for settling legal disputes presented as cases between parties in the state courts. The cases may be between two entities, such as between two individuals, between an individual and a company, the government and an organization, etc. Washington State Courts also administer justice to citizens and residents as stipulated by the State’s rule of law.
Court cases and appeals in the State of Washington are heard and decided by different courts based on their jurisdiction. A party who is not satisfied with a court’s decision may decide to appeal the case to a higher court. Appeals do not involve new hearings or evidence. They are a review of a court decision in view of a possible reverse in favor of the appellant. Based on their jurisdiction, the Washington State Court System consists of four types of courts. They are; the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Superior Courts, and the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.
The State Supreme Court is the highest court level in the State of Washington and is referred to as the last resort court. The court has nine justices, with each of them elected to a six-year staggered term. Staggered terms mean that only some and not all of the justice positions are contested in each election. Their terms are staggered to ensure continuity in the court. A prospective new justice for the Supreme Court must be admitted to law practice in the State of Washington, which is the only requirement.
Apart from the justices, the court has other support personnel such as the Bailiff, Clerk, Commissioner, Court Administrator, Reporter of Decisions, Law Clerk, and Law Librarian. The State Court of Appeals is the next in rank to the Supreme Court. It is an appellate court with authority to either affirm, reverse, modify or reverse the decisions of lower courts. Its appellate jurisdiction is non-discretionary, which implies that it does not reserve the right to refuse any appeal filed with it. The court decides all appeals from the superior courts except some cases stipulated as exclusive reserves for the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeals has a total of 22 judges across its three divisions in the state. There is a specific number of judges to be elected from the three geographic districts in each division. A Chief Judge is usually elected at the division level to oversee the administration of each division. There is also an election of a Presiding Chief Judge for all three divisions of the Court of Appeals, to coordinate the divisions’ activities within a one-year term.
Washington Superior Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. They have the authority to hear all kinds of civil and criminal cases and decide appeal cases from lower courts. Generally, cases appealed from the Superior Courts are sent to the Court of Appeals. Written or video recordings may be available for cases appealed at Superior Courts. Each of the 39 counties in the State of Washington has its superior courthouse with its courtroom and staff.
The Superior Courts are divided into districts, with each district covering single or multiple counties. Most districts consist of only one county, except some districts made up of multiple counties that are less populated. Each Superior Court has a presiding judge who oversees the administrative operations in the court.
Below the Superior Courts in rank are Courts of Limited Jurisdiction. This category comprises the District and Municipal Courts. While District Courts are trial county courts, Municipal Courts are created by and serve towns and cities. The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction record the highest number of case filings among all state courts. On average, they receive over 2 million case filings on an annual basis. The reason is that they have broad jurisdiction over misdemeanors and traffic violations.
Cities in the State of Washington can also establish Traffic Violation Bureaus (TVB) in addition to their Municipal Courts. TVB’s are created to handle traffic violation cases that require no judicial involvement. They operate under the supervision of their corresponding Municipal Court, which determines the cases they may handle. Municipal Court Judges may be installed either by election or appointment to 4-year terms as provided by state laws. District Court Judges are chosen via elections to 4-year terms.
What Are Civil Court and Small Claims in Washington?
In Washington, the District Courts exercise jurisdiction over civil cases with claims of $100,000 or less. Examples of such civil case claims include contract disputes, damage claims for injury to individuals, and personal properties.
Washington small claims courts are a department of District Courts that hear small claims cases. They were created to settle legal disputes of up to $10,000 in a user-friendly and low-cost way. The $10,000 limit applies to only cases brought by a person, and all other small claims may not be more than $5,000. Parties of a small claims case are not allowed to be represented by attorneys unless permitted otherwise by the judge in charge. There may be an allowance for witnesses to provide voluntary testimonies for a party.
Individuals, corporations, and businesses are all eligible to file a small claims case in the District Court of the county they reside in. Only individuals who are 18 years and above are permitted to sue. Interested entities are required to prepare a Notice of Small Claim form obtained from the clerk of their District Court.
The Notice of Small Claim form requires the following information:
- Name and address of the plaintiff
- A description of the claim via a sworn statement. This should contain the amount involved and the date of occurrence.
- The defendant’s name and address, if known.
The plaintiff must sign the form in the clerk’s presence unless the court instructs otherwise. The clerk is required to specify a hearing date, trial date, or response date into the Notice Form. Note that the clerk is not allowed to give any legal advice but may assist the applicant in getting forms and other necessary information for the process.
Filing a small claims suit attracts a filing fee of either $35 or $50, depending on whether or not the county supports a dispute resolution center. The filing fee is to be paid to the clerk at the point of filing the suit. There may also be an additional payment for serving or mailing the Notice to the defendant. However, the plaintiff stands a chance of getting the fees refunded by the defendant if he wins the case.
What Are Appeal and Court Limits in Washington?
The Court of Appeals in Washington is the intermediate appellate court for the state. Most cases appealed from the Superior Courts of the State are passed directly to the Court of Appeals. According to the Rules of Appellate Procedure, the types of decisions from the Superior Court that may be appealed include
- Juvenile court disposition;
- Final judgment in an action;
- Termination of parental rights;
- Order of incompetency;
- Order of commitment,
- Order on motion for a new trial.
In the appellate process, the first step is to file a Notice of Appeal. As provided by Title 5 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, the notice must be filed within 30 days after the entry of the decision that is to be reviewed. However, the time may be extended in some cases. Examples include cases where one of the parties needs to be substituted by a representative or in the case of death of one party.
The appellant must file a brief presenting a persuasive argument on why the Trial Court’s decision needs to be reversed. This must be done within 45 days after filing the report. The respondent has 30 days to file a responding brief. There is no time limit for the court to issue its decision. Some judgments may be given in six or eight weeks, whereas others may take over a year.
What Are Washington Judgment Records?
Washington judgment records refer to official documents created when the court issues an order or decision regarding a case. Following this order, the clerk of courts will enter the judgment in the court record, making it binding on the litigants and effectively creating a publicly available copy of the court record under the Washington Public Records Act.
Persons who wish to obtain judgment records in Washington must first identify the court of jurisdiction. It is typical for these courts to be located in the defendant's county of residence or where the dispute or crime happened. Upon identifying the court of jurisdiction, visit the clerk's office during regular business hours. There, the requester must inform the administrative staff of the interest of obtaining a judgment record. The staff will require that the individual provide the necessary details to search the court archives, including the case number, litigants' names, and judgment year. The case number is the fastest search parameter, and one way to obtain this case information needed is to search the Odyssey portal with the litigants' names.
Meanwhile, requests for court records typically attract administrative fees that cover the labor cost of retrieving the document and making regular or certified copies of the judgment record. These fees are payable in cash, money order, certified check, and credit card. In any way, persons who obtain Washington judgment records can expect to see the names of the persons involved in the case, the judge's name, and the judgment issued by the court.
What are Washington Bankruptcy Records?
Washington bankruptcy records provide financial information of people or businesses who filed for bankruptcy within the state. Bankruptcy records in Washington specifically contain detailed information about the financial and personal details of the person or business filing for bankruptcy. Washington has two Court districts for filing bankruptcies.
- The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington has courthouses in Seattle and Tacoma.
- The U.S Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington has courthouses in Spokane and Yakima.
When filing for bankruptcy in Washington, the documents usually requested include:
- Identification documents: driver’s license or social security card
- List of assets: bank statement, vehicle titles, real estate deeds, insurance policies, and any business the debtor has shares in.
- Income: payslips from six months ago, copies of tax returns from the last two years.
- Debt: credit report, outstanding bills such as medical and utilities, ongoing legal proceedings Document of collection and foreclosure) and judicial liens, list of creditors with the amount owed.
Along with bankruptcy documents, record custodians also maintain contracts, judgments, writs, and Washington liens. These records can be made available to interested and eligible persons on request, provided the requesting party can provide the information needed to facilitate the record search.
How Do I Find My Case Number In Washington?
A case number is a number designated for cases to make them distinct from each other. It provides information on the type of case filed, the year it was filed, and the judicial officer assigned to it. Knowing the right case number when trying to find a court record can aid in a quick location of records that are requested. In the State of Washington, case numbers may be obtained from the Clerk of the Court where the case is filed. Requestors may contact any of these officials in person or via mail. Contact information for the State Courts’ clerks may be accessed via the Court Directory.
Can You Look up Court Cases in Washington?
Chapter 42 of the Public Disclosure Act stipulates that public records in the State of Washington can be inspected or copied by the public. An entity is entitled to access public records under certain conditions and obtain copies of the records upon payment of copy fees. To look up court cases in Washington, the requester may utilize the Case Search facility on the State Courts’ website. The case search may be done at different court levels with options for search by case number, party’s name, and business’ name.
To use any search options, click on the corresponding link and fill in the form appropriately. The search results may include a case summary, calendar, and list of case activities. Attorneys may also view court proceedings using the Bar Number. Also, users can search for people using their names. In this case, the search returns a list of names matching the searched name, if any. From there, the user may then explore cases involving a particular person.
Does Washington Hold Remote Trials?
Washington State Courts hold remote court proceedings as authorized by the Fourth Revised and Extended Order regarding court operations. The Supreme Court of Washington issued the order on October 13, 2020, in a bid to maintain public health and safety and minimize the spread and adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order stated that non-jury trials and non-emergency hearings may be conducted remotely.
However, this may be done under stringent adherence to social distancing rules and other public health and safety practices. Also, petitions for civil protection orders may be filed remotely. The same applies to the filing of petitions for motions for temporary restraining orders. Courts are also encouraged to employ remote means as an alternative means of dispute resolution.
What is the Washington Supreme Court?
The Washington Supreme Court is the highest in the state. It is responsible for upholding the constitution, interpreting laws passed by the legislature, and implementing the government’s executive arm. The departments of this court include the Supreme Court Clerk’s office, Law Librarians, and Reporter of Decisions Office. Members of the public have access to the Supreme Courts records and can see the court up close through a variety of means;
- Attending oral arguments during court travels, which occur three times yearly;
- Visiting the Temple of Justice in-person to view oral courtroom arguments;
- Connecting to the court’s social media platforms;
- Watching court hearings broadcasted by TVW, Washington Public Affairs Station;
- The branch responsible for justice delivery and the branch workers are known as Stewards of Justice.
Washington Court of Appeals?
The counties in the State of Washington are categorized into three geographic appellate divisions located in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. The Appellate Courts appeal to the Supreme Court of Washington Appeals from the Superior Court of Washington. The term length of the judges is six years. The three appellate divisions are made up of twelve judges, eight judges, and five judges, respectively. The court is authorized to hear cases such as;
- All appeals from the Superior Court’s final judgment;
- Writs of quo warranto and Mandamus;
- Appeals from administrative agencies’ decisions
To qualify for a Court of Appeals’ position, an individual must have practiced law in the State of Washington for five years. The applicant must also have lived for at least a year in the district where that position was drawn. A presiding chief judge is elected for all three divisions for a one year term. Each division elects its chief judge to handle matters at the division level.
Washington Superior Courts?
The Washington Superior Courts are known as courts for general jurisdiction. These courts have jurisdiction for real property rights, felony matters, estate, domestic relations, and civil cases above $50,000. The State’s Superior Courts hear appeals from the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction. 174 judges currently preside over the 32 Superior Court judicial districts, and there are 39 counties in the State of Washington.
Washington Court of Limited jurisdiction?
The Washington Court of Limited Jurisdiction consists of District and Municipal Courts. The Municipal Courts serve towns and cities, while the District Courts serve defined territories and are county courts. Municipal Courts hear cases of misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, and infractions. This court does not accept Small Claims or civil cases. Municipal Court judges may be appointed or elected to a four-year tenure.
District Courts have jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. Its criminal jurisdiction covers gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors cases involving non-traffic and traffic offenses. A gross misdemeanor attracts a penalty of a one-year jail term and a fine of $5,000, while misdemeanor offenses attract a maximum sentence of a 90-day jail term and a $1,000 fine. Each Court of Limited Jurisdiction seats a jury of six people, and the cases in these courts may be appealed to the Superior Courts.
Courts of Limited Jurisdiction also adjudicate criminal anti-harassment and domestic violence cases. They have the right and authority to order probation for about two years. This is not the case in DUI convictions, where the court can call a probation period of five years. A probation counselor issues programs that provide probationary and supervision treatment and avail pre-sentence investigations in the courts for misdemeanor offenders.