Washington Court Records
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How Does the Washington Supreme Court Work?
The Supreme Court is the apex court in the Washington judicial system. The court has jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases, excluding lawsuits that have been granted exclusively to another court by law. The judicial system in Washington, according to hierarchy, has five significant courts, including the Supreme Court, district courts, municipal courts, traffic violations bureau, and toll courts. The district courts handle cases about injuries to persons, damages to properties, fraud cases, and some civil cases. However, civil legal actions can be transferred to a Supreme Court if it exceeds the district court’s jurisdiction. The Supreme Court handles cases such as:
- Probate matters
- Legality of tax
- Toll or municipal fines
- Disputes over possession of properties
- Cases involving debt
- Naturalization cases, habeas corpus, mandamus, and quo warranto cases
The Washington Supreme Court has a family department with jurisdictions over parenting plans, child custody, child visitation, custodial interference, child support, and marital property dissemination. Family departments can also handle divorce cases.
There are nine positions in the Supreme Court, and justices in Washington are elected to serve for six years and are mandated to retire at age 75. Each term is molded so the court can maintain continuity. The requirement for appointment or election into the office is that a prospective justice must be a law practitioner in the state.
Before the meeting, the governor conducted the evaluation and selection process to gather and vet enough information about each candidate. The counsel to the governor will review submitted applications and also run an initial interview. The best-qualified candidates will go on to be interviewed personally by the governor. This selection process can be lengthy; however, quality is not compromised for speed.
Gubernatorial appointees will stay in office until the next general election. At this time, the citizens in the location served can vote to retain the judge or elect another candidate. In replacement cases, the governor appoints a qualified candidate or an interim justice to fill in the vacant seat to ensure continuity. Serving judges of the court elect the Chief Justice among themselves to serve for four years. The elected Chief Judge also serves as the board’s chair for judicial administration.
The state’s Supreme Court reviews over one thousand cases every year, most of these lawsuits come from the court of appeals. In the Supreme Court, witnesses are not called, and evidence is not taken. The court hears legal issues and dish judgments based on records developed in the trial court. The Supreme Court has in its discretion to choose which case to review, and the court will generally grant reviews if the cases involve conflicting appellate court decisions. Every four months, the court hears oral argument in approximately 45 cases, and at least five of the nine justices have to agree to decide a case. The court’s opinions are published and are available online free of charge.
Appointees in the Supreme Court also include the clerk, court commissioner, reporter of decisions, administrator for the court, state law librarian, and the bailiff. These offices carry out different responsibilities. For instance, the reporter of decisions is in charge of preparing the court’s findings and opinions for publication.
The clerk is saddled with specific responsibilities to support the courts’ judicial functions. These responsibilities include:
- Providing the opportunity for external oversight of the court without the interference of other arms in the government, thereby protecting the court’s integrity;
- Preserving records of opinions, decisions, and judgments of the court and grants public access to them;
- Although independent of the judicial branch, the clerk ensures the court does not appear unfair in implementing orders and settling cases.
Asides these, other responsibilities include:
- Receiving and processing all documents presented in the court, including records classification and filing case files manually and electronically, following statutory standards;
- The clerk collects statutory fees, support funds, fines, and trust funds. Also, the clerk maintains and keeps records for these monies, disburses the payments at the court’s order to ensure the public’s interest is secured;
- The clerk issues writs, letters, testamentary, and other court ready orders;
- Under the Washington constitution, the clerk is titled “ex officio clerk of the court,” which automatically requires the clerk’s presence at all court proceedings to keep records of exhibits or evidence provided by both parties;
- The clerk has the responsibility of establishing office conducts and procedures to oversee the budget and maintain the court’s guidelines and policies.
The clerk’s office is open from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Monday through Fridays, excluding holidays or emergency cases.
The Supreme Court calendar lists cases scheduled for oral arguments or consideration during a court session. Both video and audio recordings of the Supreme Court’s oral opinion are available via TVW. Audio recordings are available on A. V. capture with records dating back to September 2016.
Parties can contact The Supreme Court at:
415 12th Avenue SW Olympia
P. O. box 40929
Phone: +1 (360) 357–2077
The contact address is also applicable to the Supreme Court clerk, the Supreme Court commissioner, the reporter of decisions, the state law library, and the court’s administrative office.
The Supreme Court is committed to transparency and openness under the provisions of the Washington Public Records Act. Hence, public access to court records and materials in the state is available online, and interested persons can visit the court. A service portal was put up by the Washington courts to ease accessibility further and provide convenience. However, when searching for a case, the following is required;
- The case number
- Name of the parties involved
- Business name
Contacting the court at which the case was filed may also help copies of court records are needed. Any court case or document that has been deemed confidential or expunged will not be accessible.