Washington Court Records

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How Does the Washington District Court Work?

Washington District Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases within the state. The Superior Court hears appeals for final verdicts of the District Court. If the defendant is not satisfied with the Superior court’s decision, a further appeal is possible. District Court cases in Washington may be appealed to the Court of Appeals as the primary Appellate Court and, in some instances, directly to the Supreme Court. The responsibilities and significant cases tried in the District Courts include:

  • Anti-harassment and stalking protection orders
  • Civil complaints
  • Criminal misdemeanors
  • Fish and wildlife citations
  • Contract disputes ($75,000 or less)
  • Gross misdemeanors
  • Name changes
  • Probation
  • Small claims ($5,000 or below)
  • Traffic and non-traffic infractions
  • Name changes
  • Vehicle impound hearing
  • Domestic violence petitions

Based on the evidence presented before the court, judgments in District Courts may involve jail time and other sanctions such as hefty fines. In contrast to different courts in Washington, there are typically six jurors in District Courts or fewer. The court selects jurors from the list of persons who have a driver’s license and the voter registration list. The attorneys or the judge will question the prospective jurors. These questions will determine if the jurors are related to the plaintiff or defendant to nullify any form of bias. The judge gives the final decision on who is qualified to serve on the case. Concerning criminal cases, District Courts in Washington have the power to grant probation to lawbreakers for up to two years through the input of a probation counselor who provides a tailored treatment program for offenders.

The appointment of judges of the District Courts is through a nonpartisan election. A judge is eligible if the individual is licensed to practice law and is less than 75 years old. Judges are elected to serve four-year or six-year terms, except in cases of removal due to misconduct, retirement, resignation, or death. Appointed judges who wish to serve at the District Court for multiple tenors can apply for re-election every four years. Every three years, District Court judges attend a 45-hour judicial training. In Washington, District and Municipal Courts judges belong to a body called District and Municipal Court Judges’ Association to oversee how its members operate courts.

Public records, as such, any individual who desires to retrieve a District Court record can proceed differently. Interested parties can obtain case records from district courthouses by contacting the court clerk or court administrator by email, mail, or in person in the relevant county through the Washington State Court Directory. While some District Courts have websites that grant seamless access to court records, the State of Washington judicial system has provided an electronic database to access court files using case number, name, or business name. Although the application is free for use, there is a fee schedule covering total costs based on the type of record search and the cost of reproducing the requested court files.

The online portal also has a feature that provides the date that an individual is to appear in court. Nevertheless, there are some exempted records by the Public Records Act, which cannot be accessed by the general public. Also, files that have been sealed or expunged, following a court order, are restricted from public access.

In Washington, District Court cases usually last an average of six weeks to two months, but a motion to dismiss can be filed and served within three weeks if the defendant does not oppose it. Typically, for criminal cases in the District Court, trials only begin when the defendant claims not guilty. At the District Court, the litigation begins once the clerk or judge administers the jurors’ oath. The plaintiff and defendant provide testimonies and exhibits, and the jury will be left to decide based on the judge’s instruction. After judgment, a case closes at the District Court. Occasionally, the court may decide to postpone the trial. However, the postponement of cases may elongate the trial period.

Furthermore, if the defendant appeals the verdict to the higher courts, the court case will take longer than envisaged. For civil cases, the time taken to file a defendant’s response may make trial take a long time. The duration of a case also depends on whether the parties’ legal representation filed any appeals during the process.

There are 39 District Courts in Washington, located in each county. Parties can find each of the state’s District Courts on the Washington State Judiciary website.

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