Although the Rules of Evidence are complicated and can be frustrating to try to
understand, even for lawyers, there is a good reason for every one of them. They are
designed to make it more likely that the truth will come out at trial. They are not
1.5.2 The Law of Your Case
Besides knowing the court rules, you must also know the law that applies to your
case. The law of your case will depend on what your case is about. Unfortunately, it is
often difficult to find out what the law is. One of the reasons for this is that the law is
created by all the different branches of the government--namely, the legislature, the
executive (for example, the governor or a state agency), and the courts. The legislature
might pass a law, called a "statute," and a government agency might then adopt
regulations to enforce the statute; later, the courts might be called upon to decide what the
statute or the regulations mean in a particular case.
In addition, all statutes and regulations must be consistent with the state and
federal constitutions. After deciding what a particular statute or regulation means, the
courts sometimes decide that it is unconstitutional--for example, because it violates an
individual's constitutional rights. Besides the federal constitution, federal law also
consists of federal statutes and regulations and the decisions of the federal courts, but
those are beyond the scope of this handbook.
Finally, there are many cases for which there is no statute or regulation that
applies. Those cases are decided by the courts on the basis of what is called the
"common law," which consists of the decisions of other courts in earlier, similar cases.
Therefore, in order to find out "what the law is" in your case, you have to find out
(1) whether the state legislature has passed a statute--or the city or county council has
passed an ordinance--that applies to your case; (2) whether a government agency has
adopted regulations to enforce the statute; (3) whether the courts have interpreted the
statute, ordinance, or regulation; (4) whether the statute, ordinance, or regulation is
consistent with the state and federal constitutions; and (5) if there is no applicable statute,
ordinance, or regulation, whether earlier decisions of the courts in similar cases have
established rules of "common law" that apply to your case. If that sounds like a lot of
work, you're right.
What now follows is a discussion of how to find out what the law is. This will be
a very brief and incomplete description. Long books have been written about how to find
out what the law is--for example, Effective Legal Research
, by Price, Bitner, and
Bysiewicz, which you might be able to find in your local law library or public library.
184.108.40.206 Statutes, Regulations, and Ordinances
As we discussed in the previous section, the legislature passes statutes, and
government agencies adopt regulations to carry out those statutes. The statutes passed by
the Washington State Legislature are collected in a series of books called the Revised
Code of Washington
, or "RCW
," for short. There is an edition of the RCW
, which also contains a brief summary of court decisions (also called
"cases") that have interpreted the statutes. If you can, you should use the RCW
. In the back of each volume of the RCW Annotated
is a small booklet,
called the "pocket part," which contains the most recent version of the statutes and a
summary of the most recent cases.
The law is constantly changing. For that reason, it is absolutely essential that you
check the pocket part to make sure that you have the most recent information. If the
legislature has been in session since the pocket part was published, even the pocket part
might not be up-to-date; there are paperback volumes at the end of the RCW that describe
the legislature's most recent actions.
To find the particular statute that you are looking for, the best place to start is
usually the index, which consists of several volumes at the end of the RCW
index is arranged alphabetically by subject.
Like almost all the books described here, the RCW Annotated
can be found in the
nearest public law library. Call the local bar association to find out where it is. The
librarian at the law library might be able to help you find the books that you are looking
for. You can also access the RCW’s online at the Washington State Legislature website,
The regulations that have been adopted by the different state agencies, such as the
Department of Labor and Industries, are collected in a series of volumes called the
Washington Administrative Code
, or the "WAC" for short. The WAC
updated by the State Register
. Both the WAC
and the State Register
contain indexes to
help you find the relevant pages. You can find the WAC online at www.leg.wa.gov/wac
If your case involves the law of a county or a city, rather than the law of the state,
you will have to check the county or city "ordinances," which are similar to state statutes,
but have been adopted by the county council or city council, rather than by the state
legislature. The best place to find county or city ordinances is either the local public law
library or the office of the county or city clerk.
220.127.116.11 Case Law
The law that applies to your case is also determined by what the courts have
decided in earlier cases. Like the state statutes and regulations, the decisions of the
Washington courts are published in a series of volumes. The decisions of the
Washington Supreme Court are published in a series called the Washington Reports
decisions of the Washington Court of Appeals are published in a series called the
Washington Appellate Reports
. Both series of books can be found in a public law
library. The decisions of the other Washington courts are not published.
If your case involves a state statute, the easiest way to find the decisions that
apply to your case is to check the case summaries in the RCW Annotated
section 18.104.22.168 above), which will give you the volume and page number of each decision
summarized. Another way to find relevant cases, especially if no statute or regulation
applies to your case, is to use a publication called the Washington Digest 2d
, which is yet
another series of volumes. Like the RCW Annotated
, the Washington Digest 2d
summaries of court decisions. Unlike the RCW Annotated
, the Washington Digest 2d
organized by subject matter and does not contain the state statutes. The Digest
be found in a public law library.
Once you have found one or more court decisions that seem relevant to your case,
it is important to make sure that those decisions have not been modified or "overruled" by
any later cases. The way to do that is by using a publication called Shepard's Citations
which can also be found in a public law library. You will probably need to ask a law
librarian to explain how to use Shepard's Citations
It is a good idea to make photocopies of any statutes, regulations, ordinances, or
court decisions that you think are important to your case, since it is usually necessary to
refer back to them later.
22.214.171.124 The State and Federal Constitutions
The United States Constitution is "the supreme law of the land." Consequently,
all statutes and regulations must be consistent with the U.S. Constitution. This is true
regardless of whether those statutes or regulations have been adopted by the U.S.
Congress, by the legislature of this or any other state, or by any government agency.
The Constitution of the State of Washington is the supreme law of this state. All
state statutes, local government ordinances, and state or local government regulations
must be consistent with the state constitution.
If a statute, ordinance, or regulation appears to hurt your case--especially if it
seems to violate your individual rights--you should check to see whether it is
constitutional. You should check both the state constitution and the federal constitution,
because all laws in this state must be consistent with both.
Both the Washington State Constitution and the U.S. Constitution are printed in
special volumes of the RCW Annotated
(discussed in section 126.96.36.199). The RCW
contains not only the text of the state constitution but also brief summaries of
court decisions that have interpreted each provision of the state constitution. In the back
of each volume of the RCW Annotated
is a small booklet, called the "pocket part," which
contains any recent amendments to the constitution (though the constitution is rarely
changed) and a summary of the most recent cases interpreting it.
Although the RCW Annotated
also contains the text of the U.S. Constitution, it
does not provide summaries of the cases that have interpreted the U.S. Constitution. You
may find summaries of cases that have interpreted the U.S. Constitution by checking a
series of volumes called the U.S. Code Annotated
). The U.S.C.A.
can be found
in law libraries. The U.S.C.A.
has several volumes that contain the text of the U.S.
Constitution and summaries of cases that have interpreted it. Each volume also has a
pocket part in the back, which you should check for the most recent cases.
1.6 Other Sources of Useful Information
1.6.1 The Clerk of Court
A good source of information is the Superior Court Clerk's Office. You should
keep in mind, though, that court clerks and court personnel are prohibited from giving
legal advice, such as interpreting the law or the court rules or filling out legal forms for
you. Court personnel are not trained to give legal advice and could unintentionally
mislead you about the law. The Superior Court Clerk's Office can
be helpful, however,
in explaining some court procedures, as long as it doesn't require them to interpret the
court rules for you, or in telling you where to go for additional information. You should
try to avoid times when the clerk's office is unusually busy, so that the office staff will
have time to help you.
One of the most valuable services of the clerk's office is to allow you to inspect the
court file in your case. In King County, the Superior Court Clerk's Office has some
"sample cases" that you can check out and use as examples. The Clerk's Office cannot
guarantee, however, that those sample cases were done properly; in addition, the law
may have changed since the sample cases were decided. Unless a court file has been
sealed by court order, it is a public record.
You may find the Superior Court Clerk's Office on Floor 6 of the King County
Courthouse and on Floor 2 of the Kent Regional Justice Center.
1.6.2 Washington Lawyers Practice Manual
Many law libraries have a publication called the Washington Lawyers Practice
, which consists of eight loose-leaf binders containing legal forms and many
frequently-used areas of Washington law. Although the manual is written by lawyers for
lawyers, you might find it helpful. You should keep in mind that, though updated
annually, the information contained in the manual may not be completely up-to-date.
1.6.3 Washington Practice
Another useful publication is a series of volumes called Washington Practice
which can also be found in most law libraries. Volumes 14, 14A and 15 of the series
discuss practice and procedure in civil cases. Volumes 12, 13, 13A and 13B discuss
practice and procedure in criminal cases. Each volume may contain a "pocket part"
inside the back cover, which you should check for the most up-to-date information.
1.6.4 State or Local Bar Association
The Washington State Bar Association has its offices in Seattle and has self-help
leaflets and other information that you might find helpful, depending on the nature of
For a free copy of the WSBA's general informational leaflet, which also contains
a list of the other leaflets, send a self-addressed, stamped, No. 10 business-sized,
Legal Information Leaflet
2101 Fourth Avenue, Fourth Floor
Seattle, WA 98121
The current topics of the other leaflets are as follows: Alternatives to Court;
Bankruptcy; Communicating with Your Lawyer; Consulting a Lawyer; Criminal Law;
Dissolution of Marriage; Elder Law; Landlord-Tenant Rights; Law School; Lawyers’
Fund for Client Protection; Legal Fees; Marriage; Parenting Act; Probate; Real Estate;
Revocable Living Trusts; Signing Documents; Trusts; and Wills. If you would like a
copy of one of these leaflets, follow the same instructions given above, but include the
name of the leaflet in the address on the envelope--for example:
2101 Fourth Avenue, Fourth Floor
Seattle, WA 98121
You can also find information about ordering pamphlets at the WSBA’s website,
. Some of the pamphlets are viewable online.
1.6.5 Attorney General's Office
The Attorney General's Office publishes consumer education brochures and has
recorded tapes on a variety of topics, especially on consumer problems.
The current topics of the brochures include: Auto Repair Law, Auctions Online,
Buying and Leasing Cars, Camping Clubs, Cancellation Rights, Charities, Consumer
Disputes, Consumer Line, Credit, Health Clubs, Dealing with Death, Hiring a Contractor,
Identity Theft, Junk Email, Landlord Tenant Law, Motor Vehicle "Lemon Law,"
Obtaining Public Records, Pyramid Schemes, Senior Scams, Telemarketing Fraud,
Travel, Unwanted Mail, Utility Rates, and Wireless Services. To request brochures,
either write or call the Attorney General's Office. The mailing address in Seattle is:
Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Resource Center
900 Fourth Avenue, Suite 2000
Seattle, WA 98164
The phone numbers for requesting brochures are:
Elsewhere in the state (toll-free): 1-800-551-4636
To hear taped messages on topics of interest to consumers, call 206-464-6811 in
Seattle or 1-800-692-5082 elsewhere in the state.
In addition, self-help brochures are available at:
Northwest Women's Law Center
3161 Elliot Ave., Ste 101
Seattle, WA 98121
Northwest Justice Project,
401 Second Avenue South, Suite 407
Seattle, WA 98104
206-464-1519 or 1-888-201-1012
1.6.6 Administrator for the Courts
For general information about the Washington state courts, the Administrative
Office of the Courts has published two booklets. The Washington Court Directory
contains a listing of the addresses and phone numbers of all the state courts, including
some of their key personnel. The Citizen's Guide to Washington Courts
overview of the courts and how they work. To obtain a copy of either booklet, write to
he Administrative Office of the Courts, 1206 Quince St. SE, PO Box 41170, Olympia,
WA 98504. To obtain information by internet, go to the Washington Courts Home Page
The Administrator of the Courts has current Washington state pattern forms for
civil and criminal matters available to download to your computer at www.courts.wa.gov.
1.6.7 Public Library
Depending on the nature of your case, your local public library might have helpful
information. The Public Library has computers that you may use to download forms and
other information from web sites listed in this handbook. Ask a librarian for help if you
can't find what you're looking for.
1.6.8 Attorneys' Information Bureau
You may purchase legal forms of all kinds from the Attorneys' Information
Bureau (AIB). The business is located at C-603 King County Courthouse and 1-C Kent
Regional Justice Center. The telephone numbers are 206-622-0734 and 206-205-2930
respectively. You do not need to be an attorney to buy the forms and other information
for sale at the Attorneys' Information Bureau.
1.7 ALWAYS GIVE PROPER NOTICE TO ALL PARTIES
Whenever you file a document with the court (including "motion papers" as
explained in section 2.1.4), you must mail or deliver a copy of the document to all other
"parties" in your case (that is, to all other persons who are named in the lawsuit, either on
your side or the other side). If a party is represented by a lawyer, you must mail or
deliver that party's copy of the document to the lawyer. When you have provided notice
according to the court rules, you have given "proper notice" to the other parties.
The court rules and certain statutes explain exactly how and when to give notice
to the other parties. The method and timing of giving notice can be different for different
kinds of cases. In most cases, the court rules do not permit you to give notice to the other
parties by delivering the documents to them yourself. Some other adult must do it for
you. You may use a commercial messenger service to deliver your notices. It is
extremely important that proper notice be given
, otherwise, the court might refuse to
grant your request or a higher court might reverse the action of a lower court, if the lower
court took action without proper notice.
If you are beginning a lawsuit, you must provide written notice to an opposing
party by "service of process." Service of process is the formal notice to the other side to
respond to your lawsuit. The court rules (CR 7) and state statutes explain how and when
to serve process. Service of process is the most important notice in the lawsuit, so make
sure it's done right. You may use a commercial messenger service to serve process or
deliver notices. A commercial messenger service will provide you with an affidavit of
service upon completion of service of process for filing with the Clerk of Court.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED AND ON TIME
The state court system is expensive to run, and the cost is paid almost entirely by
our tax dollars. If someone shows up in court late or unprepared or fails to provide the
opposing party with proper documents in advance according to the court rules, the court
proceedings may be delayed. When court proceedings are delayed tax dollars are wasted-
-and the judge is likely to be annoyed. Therefore, ALWAYS BE PREPARED AND ON
TIME. If you are going to be late, call the judge or their bailiff. Phone numbers for
judges can be found in the white pages of the phone book.
2. CIVIL CASES
There are two general kinds of cases: criminal and civil. Criminal
cases are cases
in which a defendant is being prosecuted by the state or local government for allegedly
committing a crime. All other cases are civil cases. Civil
cases most often involve
claims for money damages or disputes over property. In this handbook, several special
kinds of civil cases are discussed separately. Those are "family law" cases, name
changes, domestic violence cases, harassment cases, small claims court cases, "probate"
cases, and "guardianship" cases. They are discussed in section 2.5 of this handbook.
Sections 2.1 through 2.4 of the handbook apply to all civil cases (except small
claims court cases), not just to the special cases discussed in section 2.5.
2.1 Procedure Before Trial
2.1.1 Commencement of the Lawsuit in Superior Court
Most civil lawsuits begin when the plaintiff files (in the office of the court clerk)
and serves upon the defendant a "summons" and "complaint." This procedure is called
"service of process" and is described in Rules 3 through 7 of the Superior Court Civil
Rules (CRs), if the case is filed in Superior Court. The summons commands the
defendant to respond to the claim in writing in court. The complaint contains a statement
of the plaintiff's claims against the defendant and the request for relief.
After the plaintiff arranges for services of process, the defendant must respond to
the plaintiff's claims within a certain number of days. The exact number is stated in the
applicable court rules and in the summons. Generally, the defendant must respond within
twenty days of receiving the summons and complaint. The defendant does so by filing a
"notice of appearance" or an "answer" with the court clerk and serving a copy of it on the
plaintiff (or, if the plaintiff is represented by a lawyer, on the plaintiff's lawyer). The
notice of appearance shows the appearance of an attorney on behalf of the defendant or it
shows the individual acting on his or her own behalf as a pro se litigant. The answer
contains a statement of the defendant's responses to each of the plaintiff's claims.
The defendant may include with the answer a "counterclaim" containing claims
that the defendant wishes to make against the plaintiff. The defendant does not have to
file a counterclaim against the plaintiff unless the defendant's claims are based on the
same dispute that the plaintiff's claims are based on; this is explained in CR 13. The
defendant must include any counterclaims he or she has against the plaintiff if the claims
arose out of the same transaction or occurrence. If the defendant fails to assert such
counterclaims in his or her answer then the defendant may lose the opportunity to assert
those claims at a later date. Therefore, if the defendant has a claim that arose out of the
same incident as the original claim against the plaintiff who has filed suit then the
defendant must file a counterclaim. Finally, if the defendant has filed a counterclaim, the
plaintiff must respond to it by filing and serving a "reply."
If the defendant fails to file an answer with the Clerk of Court and serve it upon
the opposing party or attorney within 20 days, the plaintiff may bring a Motion for
Default against the defendant. The Motion for Default is a civil motion, which requires
notice to the attorney or Defendant, if he or she filed a notice of appearance, but which
does not require a notice to the Defendant, if he or she filed no notice of appearance or
There are special kinds of civil cases--such as family law cases, probate cases,
and guardianship cases--that are commenced by filing a "petition," rather than a
"complaint." You should check the applicable statutes and court rules for details, as well
as online form providers.
2.1.2 Civil Trial
Upon filing a civil case in King County, the Clerk of Court provides the plaintiff
with a Case Schedule which sets a series of events, including a trial date, to keep your
case moving towards completion. Immediately after filing, the plaintiff must send a copy
of the Case Schedule to the defendant and any other parties, so they know the trial date
and the order of events leading up to trial.
The Superior Court Clerk's Office assigns the case to a trial judge. The trial judge
may adjust the trial date or other events on the Case Schedule on his or her own motion
or upon the request of any party.
If the parties do not comply with the requirements of the Case Schedule, the Court
may set a Status Conference to determine why the case is not moving toward trial at a
reasonable rate. If the Court sets a Status Conference, you should personally appear on
the date for the hearing. Prior to the hearing, you should determine if you have failed to
follow the Case Schedule and correct your failure. For instance, if you have failed to file
the confirmation of service of process, you should prepare the document and file it with
the Clerk of Court as soon as possible. You should also be aware that the court imposes a
fine for missing Case Schedule deadlines.
In Superior Court, the court rules provide you with an opportunity to find out the
facts that the opposing party intends to prove at trial and the evidence that the opposing
party intends to submit to the court in order to prove those facts. In the same way, the
rules provide the opposing party with an opportunity to find out about your evidence and
the facts that you intend to prove. This process is called "discovery."
The court rules provide several different methods of discovery. The most
common and least expensive form of discovery is "interrogatories," which are written
questions that you submit to the other party, who must answer the questions in writing.
Another common form of discovery is the "deposition," where a party may
subpoena any person with knowledge of relevant facts (including persons who are not
parties to the lawsuit) to appear at a particular time and place, and question that person
about what he or she knows. Since the questions and answers of a deposition must be
recorded in some way, and since they are usually recorded by a paid court reporter,
depositions can be expensive. One way to make them less expensive is to reach an
agreement with the other parties that the deposition may be tape recorded by each party,
instead of being recorded by a court reporter. Each party would then make arrangements
for a typist to listen to the tape recording and type a transcript. If the other party won't
agree to this, you can ask the court (by making a "motion," as explained in section 2.1.4
below) to enter an order authorizing you to tape record the deposition.
The court rules that regulate the discovery process in Superior Court are Civil
Rules 26 through 37 of the Superior Court Rules, which can be found in the Washington
(discussed in section 188.8.131.52.) If you must respond to discovery, you should
answer deposition questions or interrogatories completely and honestly. For
interrogatories, you should supplement your answers as you obtain new information.
Discovery supplements other exchanges of information already required in the
process leading toward trial. In King County Superior Court, the King County Local
Civil Rules require the parties to do several things before trial. These rules require,
among other things, that both parties disclose to the other possible witnesses and rebuttal
witnesses before trial. LR 4 and 16 require that the parties exchange a list of actual
witnesses and exhibits and documents 21 days before trial and submit a joint statement of
the evidence 7 days before trial. If you fail to disclose possible witnesses or rebuttal
witnesses in a timely fashion, the trial judge may refuse to allow the witness to testify.
Discovery is one of the most important parts of a civil lawsuit. It helps to prevent
either party from surprising the other at trial with evidence that has been kept secret. As
a result, trials go more smoothly and most cases are settled even before trial begins.
More information regarding discovery can be found at the King County Law Library.
2.1.4 Civil Motions
Before the actual trial of a lawsuit, one or more of the parties may ask the court to
take some action or make some decision about the case. For example, the plaintiff might
want the defendant to reveal certain information that the plaintiff requested during the
discovery process. The defendant might think that the plaintiff is not entitled to that
information. In order to resolve the dispute, the plaintiff must make a "motion" to the
court, asking the court to order the defendant to reveal the requested information.
Civil motions in cases in King County Superior Court must comply with King
County Local Civil Rule 7, which can be found in the Washington Court Rules
form of a motion must comply with LR 7, except Family Law motions, which must
comply with Local Family Law Rules (LFLR) 5, 6 and 8. The motion must have separate
sections to state the following: the relief requested, a statement of facts, a statement of
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