Because there is no limit on the types of civil and criminal cases heard, superior courts are called general jurisdiction courts. Superior courts also have authority to hear cases appealed from courts of limited jurisdiction.
Most superior court proceedings are recorded so a written record is available if a case is appealed. Appellate courts can then properly review cases appealed to them. Some superior courts use video recordings instead of the customary written transcripts prepared by court reporters.
Appeals may be made to the Court of Appeals. In some cases, they go directly to the Supreme Court.
Juvenile court is a division of the superior court, established by law to deal with youths under the age of 18 who commit offenses (offenders) or are abused or neglected (dependents). Like adults, juvenile offenders are sentenced according to a uniform set of guidelines. Taking into account the seriousness of the offenses committed and the history of the subject's prior offenses, the guidelines establish a range of sentences, and sentence conditions.
A juvenile sentence or disposition outside the standard range is possible if the court finds the standard disposition would amount to a "manifest injustice," to the juvenile or to the community. Dispositions within the standard range are not appealable; manifest injustice dispositions are.
Dependent children are usually placed under the care of the state's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Courts frequently place such children outside the home for varying periods of time.
All superior courts are grouped into single or multi-county districts. There are 30 such districts in Washington state. Counties with large populations usually comprise one district, while in less-populated areas, a district may consist of two or more counties. A superior courthouse is located in each of Washington's 39 counties. In rural districts, judges rotate between their counties as needed. Each county courthouse has its own courtroom and staff.
Superior court judges are elected to four-year terms. Vacancies between elections are filled by appointment of the Governor, and the newly-appointed judge serves until the next general election. To qualify for the position, a person must be an attorney admitted to practice in Washington.
There is a presiding judge in each county or judicial district who handles specific administrative functions and acts as spokesperson for the court.
Superior court judges belong to an organization established by law, called the Superior Court Judges' Association. Specific committees of the association work throughout the year to improve the court system and to communicate with other court levels, the Legislature, bar associations, the media, and the public. Officers of the organization are elected each year at the association’s annual spring conference.
Court Support Personnel
Bailiff -- Responsibilities and designation of a court bailiff vary from one court to another, depending upon the needs of the court served. The bailiff's primary duties are to call the court to order, maintain order in the courtroom, and attend to the needs of jurors. In some counties, bailiffs with legal training serve as legal assistants to the judge.
County Clerk -- The county clerk is an elected official who maintains the court's official records and oversees all record-keeping matters pertaining to the operation of the courts. Among other things, the county clerk may be responsible for notification of jurors, maintenance of all papers and exhibits filed in cases before the court, and filing cases for the superior court.
Commissioner -- Most courts employ court commissioners to ease the judges' caseload. Court commissioners are usually attorneys licensed to practice in Washington. Working under the direction of a judge, court commissioners assume many of the same powers and duties of a superior court judge. Matters heard by the court commissioner include probate, uncontested marriage dissolutions, the signing of court orders for uncontested matters, and other judicial duties as required by the judge. The state constitution limits each county to no more than three court commissioners, but additional commissioners may be appointed for family law and mental health matters.
Court Administrator -- Many superior courts employ court administrators. Their functions vary, depending upon the policies of the court served. Generally, the court administrator is responsible for notification of jurors, supervision of court staff, assisting the presiding judge in budget planning for the court, assignment of cases, and implementation of general court policies.
Juvenile Court Administrator -- The juvenile court administrator directs the local juvenile court probation program and provides general administrative support to the juvenile division of superior court. Each of the state's juvenile courts is unique in the range and diversity of programs and services it offers, though all offer some type of diagnostic and diversion services. A number of juvenile court administrators direct county-level detention programs. The administrator is generally appointed by judges of the superior court; however, in a few counties, judges have transferred this responsibility to the county legislative authority.
Court Reporter -- Stenographic notes are taken in court by a court reporter as the record of the proceeding. Some court reporters assume additional duties as secretary to one or more judges.
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