Washington State Courts are responsible for settling legal disputes presented as cases between parties in the state courts. To do so, the state's judicial branch collaborates with its executive and legislative branches. These 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.
All state and federal courts in Washington operate a clerical administrative office which maintains the Washington court records generated in the course of its judicial proceedings.
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.
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.
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.
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.