Washington Court Records Search
Washington court records are documents, information, or recordings generated during a judicial proceeding. These typically include motions, affidavits, pleadings, court orders, exhibits, and judgments.
Washington court records are public and interested members of the public may view or obtain copies of the records by contacting the record custodian. Some record custodians also have electronic case management systems that facilitate online access to court records. The case information obtained from a court records search can be helpful for teaching, advancing legal research and background check, and providing valuable insights for policy making.
In addition, some third-party sites provide search services. But because they are not government-sponsored, the availability of records on these sites may differ from that of government sources. Requesters can search court records by various criteria, such as name, date of birth, case number, type of court record, and county location, and the results can be further filtered by providing additional search parameters.
Are Washington Court Records Public?
Yes. 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 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 connected to a trial or judicial proceeding. These records could be decrees, calendars, orders, judgments, indexes, 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 email, 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 and are available for remote access.
Washington Court Records Public Access
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's 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.
How to Conduct a Washington Court Record Search by Name
To conduct a court record search by name, requesters should visit the courthouse website where the case was heard or, if available at the court of interest, utilize an online case management system for their search objectives. For cases heard in Washington Superior Court, for example, users can conduct an online case search through the Odyssey Portal.
Alternatively, the requester may visit the Clerk's Office in person during business hours. The Washington court directory contains the contact information of Court Clerks who record custodians for court records. Either way, the searcher must know the necessary parameters to facilitate a record search. These include the case number, the parties' names, the attorneys involved, or even the names of the judges.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
There are a few options for obtaining free court records online. Despite this, a number of courts permit requesters to use their public access computers for free court record searches. This would necessitate a trip to the courthouse where the case was heard. However, any additional services provided by the cost staff will incur an additional fee. In Washington, the Odyssey portal is another alternative to be explored for case searches. It is a low-cost alternative for accessing accurate online court records in Washington.
There is also PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which charges a small fee per page viewed or downloaded. Lastly, there are third-party aggregate sites which are low-cost online records access options. However, users should exercise caution when accessing dockets on other free websites, as there is no assurance that they are accurate or comprehensive.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, court records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through 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. In order 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.
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 in 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 to Find Bankruptcy Records in Washington
Records of bankruptcy cases in Washington are accessible to the public. To locate bankruptcy records in Washington, requesters must first identify the federal court with jurisdiction over the relevant bankruptcy case. The court of jurisdiction may be the Eastern District Bankruptcy Court or the Western District Bankruptcy Court, depending on the petitioner's county of residence.
Access to bankruptcy records in Washington is also available online through PACER. Access to case information via PACER costs $0.10 per page, up to $3.00 per document. For more localized information in Washington, researchers may also consult the county clerk's office or online public records repositories specific to the jurisdiction where the case was filed or heard.
When searching for records related to a bankruptcy filing, requesters will be required to provide some specific information to facilitate the search, such as the case number, the debtor and creditor's names, the filing date, and the filing jurisdiction. Note that in certain instances, bankruptcy records may be restricted or sealed due to privacy laws. If the requested information is not publicly available, the requester must contact the record custodian to learn the eligibility requirements for accessing the record.
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. Hence, members of the public may perform a Washington court case lookup through relevant custodians. 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.
Washington Court Case Lookup Exemptions
Although most Washington court case lookup services are accessible to the general public, requesters not parties to the requested records may not have complete access to certain documents. This is because these documents are exempt from public disclosure. Some of these records can be found in divorce, adoption, juvenile, and parental proceedings records, civil harassment records, marriage records, and criminal records.
What is a Court Docket in Washington?
A Washington court docket is a formal record in which a judge or court clerk summarizes the court case's proceedings and filings. In addition, it includes a schedule of upcoming court proceedings. In most cases, the docket will include all filings, such as pleadings, briefs, declarations, exhibits, orders, judgments, and court notations, such as payment of fees or date extensions. Dockets aid courts in case management, case tracking, and timely hearings. Dockets are also helpful for case parties, attorneys, and the general public.
Dockets are typically maintained by a court clerk or other staff member and are accessible to the public during business hours. They can be used to keep track of upcoming court dates and deadlines, which is particularly important for self-represented litigants. In addition, they can be helpful for researching prior cases involving similar issues or parties.
Types of Courts in Washington
There are a variety of state, county, and municipal courts in Washington. The structure of the Washington court system consists of five (5) distinct levels:
- Supreme Court has the highest level of authority in Washington. Almost all of the cases heard by the Court are appeals from the Washington Court of Appeals. The court possesses discretionary jurisdiction, which allows it to choose which cases to hear. A small number of cases fall under the court's original jurisdiction.
- The Court of Appeals is the state's appellate court and the state's second-highest court. Unlike the Washington Supreme Court, which has discretionary jurisdiction, the State Court of Appeals has mandatory jurisdiction and must hear all civil and criminal appeals filed with the court. Cases from the Court of Appeals can also be transferred to the Supreme Court.
- The trial courts comprise the Superior Court, District Court, and Municipal Court. Each of Washington's 39 counties has its own Superior Court, for a total of 39 Superior Courts. Superior Courts are the general jurisdiction trial courts in Washington. A Superior Court has jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases arising within a county's boundaries. These courts have authority over cases involving felonies, real property rights, estates, domestic relations, and civil disputes exceeding $50,000. The State's Superior Courts hear appeals from the District and Municipal Courts, although some cases may be transferred to the Court of Appeals for review.
- The District Courts are limited-jurisdiction courts that hear misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, traffic infractions, criminal traffic citations, civil cases with less than $100,000 in controversy, and small claims cases. Municipal Courts, like state District Courts, are also courts with limited jurisdiction, but Municipal Courts cannot hear civil cases. A Municipal Court has exclusive jurisdiction over non-criminal traffic citations as well as misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses committed within city limits.
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 in 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.