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Published on Friday, December 14, 2012

Public access to court records

The comment period for the state Supreme Court’s proposed rule for access to court administrative records ends on December 31, 2012. AWC and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys (WSAMA) are preparing comments outlining our continued concerns with the proposal.

The Court originally published the proposed rules in June 2011 and conducted a public hearing in February 2012. The rules did not adopt the Public Records Act, nor did they provide for daily penalties in the case of a violation. They allowed for charging for search time, requiring requestors to narrow requests, and making attorney fees discretionary. The rules had an effective date of July 1, 2012. AWC and WSAMA commented on the proposed rules and asked that they not be adopted because, while they included some changes that cities have sought such as cost recovery, the new rule created a confusing new system that would likely generate more costs and lead to more litigation. The Court did not adopt the proposed rule prior to the July 1 effective date.

On September 10, 2012, the Court published revisions to the proposed rules. The revisions include:

  • Removing the sections providing for Superior Court review. The rules specify that requesters can use already existing legal processes or seek administrative review by an outside person. If that person is not a judicial officer, the parties must agree on the person.
  • Removing the provisions for monetary sanctions.
  • Allowing for injunctions against requests made with an improper purpose, such as harassment or criminal activity. This provision previously applied only to inmates.
  • Adding a 90-day deadline for requesting an internal review of records decisions.
  • Specifying that decisions about records made in bad faith are subject to sanctions imposed by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Washington State Bar Association, or personnel actions, depending on the position of the decision-maker.

The proposal retains the provisions for charging for search time, requiring requestors to narrow requests, and making attorney fees discretionary.

A copy of the revised proposal and instructions on how to comment can be found here.