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Washington Courts

Washington Courts


What You Should Know About Washington Courts

In the state of Washington, there are many different Washington courts. The judges of these courts are elected and typically serve terms that are either four years or six years long. Most of the judges of the Washington courts first begin their time in office after being appointed by the governor of Washington when vacancy is created through resignation, retirement, removal, or death of a sitting judge. Alternatively, a new seat can be created by the Washington State Legislature.

Washington Courts: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the state of Washington is the highest ranking court in the state of Washington and is in the Temple of Justice, which is in Olympia, the state capital of Washington. The Washington Supreme Court is made up of chief justice as well as eight justices, all who are win their seats through nonpartisan elections that grant six-year terms. The terms are staggered that allow the election of three justices every two years. A judge must retire by the age of 75.

Nearly all of the cases that are heard by the Washington Supreme Court are appeals of the decisions coming out of the Court of Appeals of Washington. The Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction, which means that the Supreme Court can choose what cases to take on and hear.

The Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction regarding a small number of cases. These cases are most often known as "mandamus" or “writ” actions that are used to force a state official to complete or ensure no action regarding an official government act.

Washington Courts: Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals of Washington is considered intermediate level appellate court of Washington State. The Court of Appeals is broken up into three different divisions. The first is in Seattle (Division I), while the second (Division II) is in Tacoma and the third (Division III) is in Spokane. The judges for the Court of Appeals are elected for six-year terms.

This Court of Appeals takes on both civil and criminal cases that have been appealed from the Superior Courts of Washington. Unlike the procedure at the Washington Supreme Court that applies discretionary jurisdiction, it is a matter of right to have an appeal to the Court of Appeals, which is mandatory jurisdiction. This means the court must hear all the criminal and civil appeals filed through the court. 

Washington Courts: District and Municipal Courts

Each county of Washington (a total of 39) has their own individual district courts, with a judge who is elected and serves for a term for four years. These Washington Courts have very limited jurisdiction and typically only hear small claim cases with controversies that are less than $50,000 as well as misdemeanor trials that can result with a maximum of one year in a county jail.

In certain counties that have either large towns or cities, there can also be a Municipal Court. The judges of these Washington courts are either appointed or elected by the city councils or mayor. They serve four terms that last four years. 

The Washington Municipal Courts have very limited jurisdiction and only take on non-criminal traffic citations as well as trials regarding misdemeanor crimes that have a maximum sentence up to one year in a county jail.