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State and federal law require judicial branch agencies and courts to keep some records confidential. Confidential records are not available to the public. Access to some records containing sensitive personal information is restricted by law to protect peoples' right to privacy and to protect them from possible harm or harassment. Records maintained or created by a judge or the judge's staff are called "chamber records" and are not subject to disclosure.
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Access to judicial records is governed by court rules and not the Public Records Act (PRA) under RCW 42.56. There are two types of judicial records addressed by court rules: (1) "court (or case) records" (records filed with the court in a judicial proceeding that are usually maintained by the court clerk); and (2) "administrative records" (any record pertaining to the management, supervision or administration of the judicial branch).
Access to court/case records in the municipal court is governed by the following court General Rules (GR): GR 31 (Access to Court Records), GR 15 (Destruction, Sealing and Redaction of Court Records).
Access to judicial administrative is governed by GR 31.1 (effective January 1, 2016). The judicial branch is committed to openness, transparency, and the belief that the public should have access to most court records and administrative public records. These FAQs address GR 31.1, access to judicial administrative records. For information regarding access to records contained in court case files (court or case records), please consult GR 31.
The form for requesting records from a case file is located on the court website under Records Request. It is best to request records in person from the court to make sure the clerk fully understands your request. However, you may also mail or email the records request form to the court. It is your responsibility to make sure it is properly received by the court by calling the court at 206-842-5641 to confirm.
GR 31.1 ensures the public's right to access to judicial administrative records, clarifies the responsibilities of judicial agency officials with regard to providing access to these records, and assists in identifying exceptions to public access.
Judicial administrative records in Washington State are generally accessible to the public. These records may be written or recorded information related to the management of the court, its business with the public, or the carrying out of its administrative functions. These records include copies of records made by, used by, or received by a court in connections with its administrative functions.
The form for requesting administrative records is located on the court website under Records Request. You may mail or email the request form to the court or drop it off in person during regular business hours. It is your responsibility to make sure it is properly received by the court by calling to confirm. You may contact the Court Public Records Officer at 206-842-5641.
While most administrative records will be provided in their entirety, some records may contain sensitive or private information. This sensitive or private information may be removed or blocked out of a record. This is called a redaction. Examples of information that will be redacted include social security numbers, some financial information, home addresses, medical records and health care information. The request will be notified when information has been redacted from a record along with the reason for that redaction.
Administrative records are subject to a retention schedule. Most administrative records are retained for six years.
All requests to inspect or obtain administrative public records must be submitted in writing.
Please send the completed form to the Public Records Officer at the court. You must provide your legal name and physical address when you submit the request. If you need assistance due to disability, please contact the court Public Records Officer at 206-842-5641.
Within five days of receipt of your administrative records request, the court PRO will confirm that your request was received and, when possible, will estimate the time it may take to locate and send the records to you. Although the judicial branch is not penalized if confirmation is not made within the five day period, every effort is made to ensure that receipt of your request is properly confirmed. Please see the Municipal Court's Policy and Procedures (PDF) for more information.
The court is not required to create a new public record to respond to your request if the request you submitted is for a record that does not exist. If the request is not specific enough to understand, or if the request is very broad and costly, we may call or write you for clarification so that we can avoid unnecessary expenses to you and the court or judicial branch agency.
If you are notified that the record you requested cannot be disclosed or that the record you received has been redacted and you disagree with the decision, you may seek review of the decision. GR 31.1(d). There are two separate review processes to follow, internal and the external review.
To view original or stored paper copies of administrative public records by completing the records request form and indicating you wish to view the records in-person. You will then need to make an appointment with the Public Records Officer to view the records at the court. While there are no charges or fees associated with viewing administrative records, there may be costs associated with the research necessary to find these records. See GR 31.1(h)(4) and cost discussion below.
You will need to complete the Records Request form and note that you would like paper copies. There will be fees for copying the records or completing any extensive research related to your request, and you will be informed the amount that is due.
GR 31.1(h)(2) allows the court to recoup its cost for copying and scanning records. If extensive research (more than one hour) is required to respond to your request, there will be charges for the time involved at $30 per hour. GR 31.1(h)(4). You will be required to pay the fees in advance of research and prior to the copies being given to you. If you do not pay the amount due for records, you will not be able to obtain additional records until that debt is paid.
Fee Structure for Administrative Records (pursuant to GR 31.1, RCW 3.62.060):
The public records officer maintain records of requests and the manner in which the requests are filled.
The court cannot control the use of the public records it provides to the public and cannot be responsible for any problems that result. However, the court will not provide any administrative record if it determines that: the request was made to harass or intimidate the court or judicial agency or its employees; fulfilling the request would likely threaten the safety or security of judicial officers, staff, family members of judicial officers or staff, or any other person; or fulfilling the request may assist criminal activity. GR 31.1(c)(7).