Washington Court Records
What are Washington Civil Court Records?
Civil court records contain an official record of cases filed at the civil court. They may include documents, exhibits, information or any other record maintained by the court in connection with a judicial civil proceeding. Court records may also include judgements, court rules, court orders, docket, calendar, index, and minute entries. In compliance with Washington public record laws, civil court records are open to the public except where restricted by court order, case law or state law. Interested persons may find Washington civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard.
Note: Court records do not include any record, data or information maintained by a judge, such as personal notes, drafts, memoranda, and other information.
Who Can Obtain Civil Court Records in Washington?
Almost anyone can obtain civil court records. Washington’s Public Records Act preserves the general public to request public court records in writing form or electronically. Similar to most states, a statement of intent is not required to obtain copies of a record.
Understanding the Washington Civil Court Structure
Washington’s judicial structure is divided into multiple levels: the supreme court, courts of appeal, superior court, district court, and municipal court. The supreme court, courts of appeal, superior court and district court and the main courts of record.
Made up of nine justices, Washington Supreme Court serves as the court of last resort. It oversees appeals by permission for criminal and civil cases. It also hears appeals for death penalty and more. Records for cases filed at this level can be obtained by contacting the supreme court clerk’s office.
Courts of Appeals
The state’s intermediary appellate court, the Washington Court of Appeals reviews decisions originating from the lower courts, including appeals by right and permission for criminal and civil cases.
With one in each of the state’s 39 counties, Washington Superior Courts serve as the state’s trial courts. They have general jurisdiction over most civil and criminal cases, except in situations where the jurisdiction of the case has been exclusively granted to another court. They preside over civil cases involving property disputes, questions of tax, cases involving damages and debt, and more. Records of cases filed at this level are maintained by the designated clerk for the county.
Washington District Courts have limited jurisdiction over criminal, civil and traffic cases. They preside over civil cases where the amount in dispute is less than $75,000. District courts also have a small claims department that handles cases where the sum in dispute is less than $5,000.
Are Washington Civil Court Records Free?
Public court records can be viewed freely at the custodian courthouse. Some courts provide public terminals where members of the public can access records. However, most courts charge a nominal fee for copying a record or accessing a court document remotely. Some court management systems charge a subscription for using the online service.
How Do I Access Sealed Civil Court Records in Washington?
Sealed court records in the state of Washington remain confidential and cannot be viewed by the members of the public except where unsealed by a court order. However, even though court documents remain sealed, the records showing their existence are available to the public.
What information is contained in a Washington Civil Court Record File?
The information contained in a civil court file varies with each case. However, most Washington civil court records generally contain information such as:
- Order of notice and appearance
- Complaint, substituted complaint, cross complaint
- Third party complaint
- Judgement file
How to Find Washington Civil Court Records
Citizens of Washington can access civil court records using any three means:
- Obtaining records in person
- Obtaining records online
- Obtaining records by mail
Publicly available records may also be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels. Members of the public can only confirm online access by contacting the existing court.
How to Access Civil Court files in Person
Step 1. Identify the Right Court
Civil court files can be reviewed or inspected in person by visiting the courthouse where the case was filed. Washington courts have jurisdiction over different types of cases
- General civil cases: Most cases are tried at the superior courts
- Limited civil cases: May be tried at the superior courts or district courts
- Small claims civil cases: Most cases are tried in the district courts
- Landlord tenant civil cases: Falls under the jurisdiction of the superior court
- Complex commercial civil cases: Often tried at the superior courts
- Real estate title, foreclosures and liens: Most cases are filed at the superior courts
- Ordinance violation: Tried at district or municipal courts
Step 2. Search for Records at the Courthouse
Most courts provide public terminals at the courthouse that members of the public use to inspect records. Access to court records is usually provided during specific hours. Residents can also obtain copies by submitting a request to the court clerk. Depending on when the case was filed, some older records may be stored in off-site locations. In situations where this occurs, access to the records may be delayed.
Note: The Washington Court’s website maintains an online court directory that provides the addresses and contact details of each court.
Step 3. Pay the Fee for Copies
While members of the public can view or inspect at no cost, a fee must be paid if they intend to make copies of court records. This fee may include an additional charge for any requests that include certified court records. The exact amount to be paid is determined by the record custodian in compliance with Washington State laws.
Are Washington Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
Some categories of civil court records are protected from public view. The laws in Washington prevent the disclosure of court records that contain confidential information such as:
- Records of mental illness commitment/treatment
- Confidential name changes
- Records sealed by law judicial order
- Adoption records
- Alcohol and drug treatment records
Are all Washington Civil Court Records Available Online?
No. Although the Administrative Office of the Courts in Washington maintains a state-wide case management system, the records provided via this platform are restricted to more recent cases. Records of civil court cases filed before 2000 may only be available in physical form at the custodian courthouse. Access to online court records varies with different districts and counties. Some courts maintain independent online case management systems. Others provide a public access terminal that requesters can use to identify which documents are filed in each case.