The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the state's highest court. Its opinions are published, become the law of the state, and set precedent for subsequent cases decided in Washington.
The Court has original jurisdiction of petitions against state officers and can review decisions of lower courts if the money or value of property involved exceeds $200. The $200 limitation is not in effect if the case involves a question of the legality of a tax, duty, assessment, toll, or municipal fine, or the validity of a statute.
Direct Supreme Court review of a trial court decision is permitted if the action involves a state officer, a trial court has ruled a statute or ordinance unconstitutional, conflicting statutes or rules of law are involved, or the issue is of broad public interest and requires a prompt and ultimate determination. All cases in which the death penalty has been imposed are reviewed directly by the Supreme Court. In all other cases, review of Court of Appeals decisions is left to the discretion of the court.
Motions to be determined by the Court, and petitions for review of Court of Appeals decisions, are heard by five-member departments of the Court. A less-than-unanimous vote on a petition requires that the entire court consider the matter.
All nine justices hear and dispose of cases argued on the appeal calendar. Each case is decided on the basis of the record, plus written and oral arguments. Exhibits are generally not allowed and no live testimony is heard.
The Supreme Court is the final rule-making authority for all of the state's courts. Though local courts make their own rules of procedure, these rules must conform to, or not conflict with, those established by the Supreme Court. In addition, the Supreme Court has administrative responsibility for operation of the state court system. It also has a supervisory responsibility over certain activities of the Washington State Bar Association, including attorney disciplinary matters.
The nine Supreme Court justices are elected to six-year terms. Each term is staggered to maintain continuity of the court. The only requirement for the office is that the prospective justice be admitted to the practice of law in Washington State. Vacancies are filled by appointment of the Governor until the next general election.
Court Support Personnel
Bailiff -- A court-appointed official, the bailiff announces the opening of each session of the court and performs a variety of other duties as required by the court.
Clerk -- Appointed by the court, the clerk of the Supreme Court maintains the court's records, files, and documents. The clerk is also responsible for managing the court's caseflow, including the preparation of its calendars, arranging for pro tem (temporary) judges and docketing all cases and papers filed.
The clerk supplies attorneys, opposing counsel and other appropriate counsel with copies of Supreme Court briefs, and records attorney admissions to the practice of law in Washington state. The clerk also rules on costs in each case decided by the court, and may also rule on various other procedural motions. The clerk is assisted by a deputy clerk and supporting staff.
Commissioner -- The commissioner, also appointed by the court, decides those types of motions which are not required by court rule to be decided by the justices. Called rulings, these decisions are subject to review by the court. The commissioner also heads the court's central staff. The commissioner and other attorneys on the central staff assist the court in screening cases to determine which ones should be accepted for full hearing. The court is asked to hear more than 1,000 cases each year, though only a small portion of these can be accepted.
Court Administrator -- Washington’s administrator for the courts is appointed by the Supreme Court and is responsible for the execution of administrative policies and rules in Washington's judicial system. With the assistance of a support staff, the administrator compiles court statistics; develops and promotes modern management procedures to accommodate the needs of the state's courts; studies and evaluates information relating to the operations and administrative methods of the judicial system; and provides pertinent information to the members of the judicial community, the other branches of government, and the general public. The administrator’s staff also prepares and submits budget and accounting estimates relating to state appropriations for the judicial system.
Reporter of Decisions -- Appointed by the Supreme Court, the reporter of decisions is responsible for preparing Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions for publication. Decisions are published in weekly “advance sheets” and in the permanent volumes of Washington Reports and Washington Appellate Reports.
Law Clerk -- Law clerks primarily provide research and writing assistance to the justices.
Law Librarian -- The state law librarian is appointed by the Supreme Court to maintain a complete, up-to-date law library.
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