Author: carpenterr

ROSS’ REF Q’S – Removing a discriminatory covenant



Welcome back to Ross’ Ref Q’s! We had our quarterly bye month in October to allow my ref q energies to recharge, but now ref q answering energy is radiating from my fingertips! This month’s ref q involves shame and deed recording:

How do I remove a discriminatory covenant on the deed of my house?

This was an emailed question. A new homeowner found out that the deed to their house contained a decades-old, racially-based restrictive covenant and ran up against the issue of deed recording. Deeds are passed hand to hand, with new recordings adding new information, but almost never altering what’s already written—it’s a recording, right?

But Seattle, King County, and much of the United States has a shameful history of restricting where people can live based off their ethnicity and race. While these types of covenants and discriminations were nominally made void decades ago, their depressive effects persist in the form of disparate rates of home ownership and generational wealth. At the same time, though these covenants are now unenforceable, they persist in the public record as recorded covenants.

Unenforceable as these covenants may be, I get why someone would want to distance their noxious history from the place they call home. But is altering the deed possible?

King County has a helpful guide for how to file a modification with the Recorder’s office. Their words: “Recording a modification document will provide notice in the land title records that the restrictive covenant is void and unenforceable. It will not delete the historic record.” This process will thus help many folks, but not our present querier. We want the covenant gone.

Helpfully, the county has another guide on how to remove covenants. Less helpfully, the process is thus explained: “If the owner wants the covenant removed, they go to Superior Court (paying the nominal court fee) in the county in which the property is located. Superior Court may issue a declaratory judgment action – entering an order striking the void provisions from the public records and eliminating the void provisions from the title.”

This certainly makes it sound like you can waltz into 516 3rd Ave, pay a fee, and get your “declaratory judgment,” whatever that means! This description elides the “How” part of “How to remove restrictive covenants.” Filing any kind of lawsuit is complicated and time-intensive, and this FAQ entry unfortunately makes a molehill out of what is at least a somewhat formidable landmass.

At least we know that it is possible! This wasn’t a sure thing, because as discussed, recorded documents like to be wholly retained. Perhaps there is a statutory or regulatory basis for this? Time to check ye olde secondary sources – Washington Practice. I searched the whole series (via Westlaw) for “restrictive covenants,” but this yielded too many results—restrictive covenants are only our emphasis to the extent that they are discriminatory. So, I retooled my search to “discriminatory covenants” and the top result seemed relevant.

Washington Practice Volume 17 Real Estate: Property Law § 3.1.70. speaks to discriminatory covenants and says that it was only recently that the legislature adopted RCW 49.60.227 to allow the removal of discriminatory covenants. Statutory language – bingo!

RCW 49.60.227 sez “The action shall be an in rem, declaratory judgment action whose title shall be the description of the property. The necessary party to the action shall be the owner, occupant, or tenant of the property or any portion thereof. The person bringing the action shall pay a fee set under…”

This is enough for a patron, I think.

    • Declaratory judgments, see:
        • CR 57
        • 15 Washington Practice § 42:11. Declaratory Judgments: Procedure generally
    • In rem jurisdiction
        • 14 Washington Practice Chapter 5: In rem jurisdiction

The next steps would probably be modifying a blank probate form caption (or some other Ex Parte material) to say “In rem of: [the property]” and to use the above texts, perhaps our civil lawsuit packet, to cobble together a complaint for declaratory judgment against the discriminatory covenant. This would likely entail service by publication, as seen in the chapter for in rem jurisdiction.

A determined pro se litigant who wants to excise the unenforceable bits from their deed can likely achieve it, although they will likely find the process opaque, time consuming, and discombobulating. In other words, right up my alley.


Free to Roam the Cabin

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director King County Law Library

This is your captain speaking:  “We have turned off the fasten seatbelt signs.  You are now free to roam the cabin.”

Back in the Stacks

For those of you who have been itching to get back into the law library stacks to do some browsing, you’ll be happy to know that the King County Law Library has resumed full access the stacks and seating in both wings of the law library.  You are free to roam.

I should note that we still have a few vestiges of our COVID protocols in place.  In order to guard against overcrowding and to ensure we are able to serve those needing our specialized services and resources, use of the law library is limited to patrons engaged in legal research and legal work.  We continue to ask patrons to do a quick check-in at the front desk when they enter.  Masks are no longer required, but we recommend wearing a mask inside the law library.

Longer Computer and Database Access

Computer access, including Westlaw, is now back to a two-hour session.  We have three dedicated Westlaw terminals in Seattle and two in Kent.  It should never be a problem to walk-in and immediately get on a Westlaw computer with no wait.  We have excellent Westlaw law coverage with full 50 state and federal primary law, KeyCite, the complete law review & journal collection, the state and federal court dockets and filings, and of course the full Westlaw treatise collection including Washington Practice.   Our in-house computers also have access to our complete database collection including Hein Online, the WSBA Deskbooks via Fastcase, the National Consumer Law Center, Vital Law, NOLO Press, SupportCalc, and our Lexis Digital eBook collection.

If you are considering becoming a subscriber to gain remote access to the Lexis Digital eBook collection, a visit to the law library will allow you to test drive the eBook collection and see all the great content included with our remote access for subscribers.  The Lexis Digital eBook collection has the WSBA Deskbooks, the KCBA Lawyer’s Practice Manual, the Lexis Washington Practitioner Series, the gold standard treatises for almost any subject area (Collier on Bankruptcy, Corbin on Contracts, Immigration Practice and Procedure, Moore’s Federal Practice, Appleman on Insurance, Page on Wills, and Powell on Real Property just to name a few), and the complete ABA treatise collection.

Conference Rooms

Our conference rooms are available for walk-in use for free on a first come, first serve basis. Just check in at the front desk to confirm availability.  Conference rooms may also be reserved in advance for a fee via our website.   Rooms are already filling up for the fall and winter so be sure to make your reservation well in advance.

Remote Services Still Available

If you would like to access the library’s collection and services, but are not coming into the courthouse much these days, never fear we still have plenty of remote options.  As noted above, subscribers have fantastic remote access to our robust collection of Washington, federal, and general practice materials.  The Washington treatises include perennial favorites such as Defending DUIs in Washington, Washington Insurance Law, Washington Business Entities: Laws and Forms, Employment in Washington, and the Law of Evidence in Washington.  We also have the Annotated Revised Code of Washington, and the Washington Court Rules Annotated. As a subscriber, you can annotate and save sections of the eBooks and download for later, offline use.

For non-subscribers, VitalLaw, the National Consumer Law Center treatises, and NOLO Press Books are all available for remote access.

Researchers at Your Service — Let Us Do Your Research

During the pandemic, many of our subscribers discovered the law library’s Let Us Do Your Research service. For solo and small firm attorneys, it’s like having an on-demand, low-cost research assistant who comes armed with tens of thousands of dollars of legal research resources.

Subscribers submit research projects to us through our website. The first fifteen minutes of research is free as our staff reviews the request and determines: 1) if the question(s) fall within the scope of our expertise and our information resources; and 2) if we can meet the request deadline. Once we determine that the question meets these parameters, the subscriber decides if it makes sense to use the service and how much time she would like us to spend. The current rate for approved Let Us Do Your Research projects is $100 per hour, charged in 15-minute increments. Our researchers will limit the amount of time spent on the question to the predetermined amount. If the question takes less time than projected, we only charge for the time spent on the project. Subscribers receive a detailed research memo that includes references to the resources used, summaries of relevant caselaw as well as the full text of cases relied on in the research memo. This service is available only to subscribers.

Here’s what some of our Let Us Do Your Research service users have said:

I presented a fairly complicated question and didn’t want to spend my time down the rabbit hole. I wanted a pro to help me avoid the hours I would have taken to get to first base. I got a call a day after I sent the question from a gentleman who asked perfect questions and engaged in a fruitful and interesting back and forth on the issue. Three days later I got a clearly written road map memo that got me where I needed and then some. Overall great experience. Thank you, money well spent.

Very helpful! I sometimes forget about other potential legal avenues I might pursue. In this case your research reminded me of Restatement of Judgments 2nd which gave me an excellent argument to hopefully defeat collateral estoppel

This is great and exactly what I was hoping for. As a solo practitioner who has zero staff, this type of assistance is invaluable. Thank you, again!

Making it Easier to Get What You Need Remotely — 5 Free Document Deliveries Per Month

To make it easier to use the law library remotely we offer subscribers 5 free document deliveries per month.  This can be a case, a section of a treatise, a law review article, or any other document we have in our collection.  We’ll shoot you a copy of the requested material over email. For non-subscribers, document deliveries cost $25 per document.

Remote or In-Person KCLL is Here for You

While many of you are thrilled to “roam the cabin” again, some still prefer armchair travel.  Whatever your preference, remote or in-person, KCLL has services and resources to assist with your legal research needs. If you have any questions or would like more information, visit  or email


Lawyer TikTok? Yes, It’s a Thing.

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director King County Law Library

An article titled “How Lawyers Can Benefit from TikTok Without Being ‘Cringe’”[1] recently came across my inbox. My first thought was: Wait, how does a lawyer even have a professional presence on TikTok?  From my limited exposure to TikTok via my teenagers, it is primarily teens posting dance videos and responding to odd ball challenges.  Granted, kids spend hours swiping through TikTok content, but that demographic doesn’t seem likely to generate many client leads.

My second thought was: How can anyone over the age of 20 avoid being “cringe?” I am regularly labeled cringe for my choice of food, clothing, music, and car (2007 Subaru wagon).  But TikTok is a fickle mistress.  Case in point, the New York Times recently ran piece on 52-year-old documentary filmmaker, Louis Theroux’s sudden rise to TikTok fame based on his rap “Jiggle Jiggle.” “He delivers the rap in an understated voice that bears traces of his Oxford education, giving an amusing lilt to the lines ‘My money don’t jiggle jiggle, it folds/I’d like to see you wiggle, wiggle, for sure.’”[2]

How is TikTok Different from other Social Media?

First, TikTok is for very short attention spans.  Videos are often 15, 30, or 60 seconds.  Recently, the maximum time was expanded from 3 minutes to 10 minutes but apparently anything over 1 minute “stresses users out” and users will watch longer videos at double speed.[3] Second, unlike other social media where you need to build up a  significant base of followers to gain viral status, TikTok’s algorithm allows creators to go viral with few to no followers making it less of a barrier to entry for those first starting out. Third, TikTok is very, very popular. It was “the most downloaded app of 2021 and boasts more than a billion monthly active users. Mobile researcher estimates that the average user spends nearly twice as much time on TikTok every month as they do on Facebook – 28.7 hours, compared to 15.5 hours.”[4]

How are Lawyers Using TikTok?

Some lawyers like Cecillia Xie of Morrison & Foester, Joanne Molinaro of Foley Lardner and Fumnany Ekhator, a recent Penn Law grad, use TikTok to discuss the law but more in connection with their personal lives.[5]  Clothes, food, and relationships get blended into posts about the law school experience or what it’s like to  practice law.  Other attorneys use TikTok as a medium to give legal information in a bite-size, entertaining format as a marketing and outreach tool.  Mike Mandell, lawbymike, uses goofy videos to describe basic concepts of criminal law like police stops or spousal privilege.   Ethen Ostroff, “The TikTok Lawyer” has videos geared to other attorneys – grow your business on social media; using virtual assistants – as well as videos aimed at potential clients – boating accidents; CPAP machine side effects. Brad Shear, bradshear, does very short legal takes on current events. Maclen and Ashleigh Stanley,, married recent Harvard Law grads, do slightly longer explainers on current news stories.

What are the Upsides?

Cecillia Xie makes a compelling case for the upsides of attorneys on TikTok and mentions the following ways that creating a presence on TikTok can be a smart move. 1. “Creating content on TikTok can raise your profile. Early adopters of any social media platform tend to reap outsize rewards compared to later adopters. As the creator pool becomes more saturated over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out and effectively reach your target audience.  Take advantage of TikTok’s relative nascency and current momentum while you can.”[6]  Case in point, most of the articles that come up in a search for lawyers on TikTok either feature or at least mention one Cecillia Xie.  2. “Being one of the first to interface with a consumer product like TikTok can help you develop familiarity with its technological features and better understand the competitive landscape facing your clients.”[7]   As TikTok continues to dwarf Twitter and Snapchat in advertising market share, it is likely that more potential clients will be using TikTok and working knowledge of the vagueries of TikTok can prepare one for future client issues.  3. “Compelling branding on TikTok can deepen your relationships with clients…. With the press of the record button, TikTok allows you to showcase your personality and knowledge simultaneously – a hybrid short-form power lunch and client alert distributed to as many people as are on your mailing lists, or more.  And even if all of your clients are not on TikTok, their kids definitely are.”[8]

What are the Pitfalls?

Leila Bijan of Zuckerman Spaeder noted six ethical pitfalls for lawyers on TikTok.  They include:

  1. Inadvertently creating attorney-client relationships with followers – Many lawyers on TikTok offer advice on what their followers should do in different types of legal situations, such as police encounters. If the advice is specific enough, it could create an attorney-client relationship…
  2. Revealing client confidences – Lawyers who want to discuss interesting clients and cases on TikTok are playing with fire, since—subject to a few exceptions—lawyers are prohibited from revealing information about the representation of a client….
  3. Getting caught up in TikTok trends and entertainment value at the expense of your ethical obligations — Anything that combines humor or sarcasm with legal advice should be approached with extreme caution….
  4. Providing inaccurate legal information — Lawyers on TikTok should be crystal clear about the jurisdictional limitations to their legal commentary….
  5. Making a lawyer advertisement that does not meet ethical requirements — Some lawyers on TikTok discuss past case successes, including the large verdicts they’ve won for their clients. But slight variations in wording can turn a lawyer’s celebration of success into a lawyer advertisement that might not comply with the relevant lawyer advertisement rules ….
  6. Not knowing which jurisdiction’s ethical rules govern or what those rules are — If a lawyer reaches audiences beyond state lines (which is likely on such a popular platform), then that lawyer might be subject to those jurisdictions’ rules too—even if the lawyer is not an admitted member of those bars.[9]

How to Avoid Being “Cringe”

For those attorneys who successfully navigate a professional presence on TikTok, or any social media platform for that matter, a delicate balance between creating content that is entertaining, informative, and a bit whimsical is de rigueur.  Cecillia Xie suggests using a deep understanding of your audience and your brand to guide your content, along with mirroring the tools and effects that other trendsetters are using to create compelling content. “TikTok may feel casual, but posting publicly is anything but.  Before you post a video, always ask yourself whether you would be comfortable playing the video in Times Square or appearing as a headline in the New York Times.”[10] Ethen Osstroff also has some advice for success on TikTok.  He notes that self-promotion will backfire. “Think ‘reach out to me for questions’ instead of ‘contact a lawyer.’”  He also advises not to get overly caught up in reactions to the videos – people are bound to judge – just focus on putting up content with value. [11]

A  “Second Life” Cautionary Tale

Having looked at a bit of the attorney TikTok content I would have to say that my reaction is a solid “meh.”  TikTok is created for short attention spans, the law is not.  To me, a lot of the content made my ethics violations radar go “jiggle jiggle.”  Compelling TikTok videos also seem to require a lot of exposition of one’s personal life.  I imagine it’s a difficult dance to balance that level of personal exposure with maintaining a professional demeanor.

On social media, a premium is placed on coming up with new, ever-evolving content.  For attorneys who are already overscheduled, the sheer amount of time it takes to create, review, and distribute content seems like a poor return on investment.  I’m reminded of the hype surrounding Second Life in the mid-2000s.  Many a university spent significant resources building a presence on Second Life with replicas of their real-life campuses and virtual classrooms where actual, for-credit classes were taught.  Second Life’s popularity fizzled before long, leaving those virtual campuses ghost towns.

But then again, what do I know?  I could never have imagined why anyone would want to use Twitter and I still read books in print, which I’m pretty sure is “cringe.”

Questions on TikTok or Other Social Media?

If you have questions on using social media to market your practice, how social media fits into the rules of professional conduct, or how social media has been handled by courts feel free to contact the King County Law Library at  We are also happy to help with non-trendy (re: cringe) research topics as well.


[1] Cecillia Xie, How Lawyers Can Benefit from TikTok Without Being ‘Cringe’ Law 360 (July 25, 2022)

[2] Stephen Kurutz, How Louis Theroux Became a ‘Jiggle Jiggle’ Sensation at Age 52, New York Times (June 17, 2022)

[3] Chris Stokel-Walker, TikTok Wants Longer Videos – Whether You Like It or Not, Wired (Feb 21, 2022)

[4] See Xie supra

[5] Tianna Headley, Big Law’s TikTok Stars Embrace Industry’s New Social Media Norms, Bloomberg Law (July 12, 2021)

[6] See Xie, supra

[7] Id

[8] Id.

[9] Leila Bijan, Six Ethical Pitfalls to Avoid on Lawyer TikTok, JDSupra (Sept 30, 2021)

[10] See Xie, supra

[11] Jacob Sapochnick, 11 Lawyers Going Viral on TikTok Right Now, Enchanting Lawyer,

ROSS’ REF Q’S – Mediation sans elation



It’s Ross’ Ref Q’s – part cinq!

Fun note: The library’s stacks have been reopened to the public and word has seemingly gotten out—we’re getting a number of great reference questions at the desk, and overall it’s thrilling to see folks emerge from the stacks, heavily laden with books and grinning like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. Come by and see us!

Today’s question didn’t come from an in-person question, though, but from a phone call. The backstory went that the caller was finding their way through a TEDRA action (probate dispute) and the court had ordered mediation. Due to [reasons] the caller felt mediation didn’t go their way and wanted to know what options they had:

What agency regulates mediation services? Is there an appeals process?

ADR is a topic I know very little about, so I asked them to email us so I could respond with links and attachments. Email is preferred for these reasons: giving us time to answer, and the ability to send materials ie not read aloud from treatises.

I know for parenting plans and the like that you might be ordered to go to ADR before returning to the courts, but with their processes being largely outside court rules and statutes, my knowledge quickly runs out. I was aware of the King County Dispute Resolution Center, but it had never occurred to me that an authority might regulate them.

The KCDRC website was a bust. They have staff emails listed, including that of their Executive Director, but my caller wasn’t simply trying to speak to the manager. We were looking for procedure…

I found the chapter of the RCW that authorizes the use of Dispute Resolution Centers, but that too was off base-nothing spoke to their regulation.  RCW 7.75.060 says,

“Any person who voluntarily enters a dispute resolution process at a center established under this chapter may revoke his or her consent, withdraw from dispute resolution, and seek judicial or administrative redress prior to reaching a written resolution agreement.”

But that too wasn’t on-point. The caller had reached an agreement, but one they seemingly wished to appeal.

I opened Washington Practice in Westlaw and searched the entire series for “Alternative Dispute Resolution” and scanned through the many results. A promising chapter came from the Family and Community Property Law volume, which spoke to the mediation beyond the family law context. In particular, chapter §53:2 says,

“Mediation is essentially a contractual undertaking and is relatively free of regulation. The Uniform Mediation Act (“UMA”) provides some limited standards and protections for mediation matters. All mediations, including those required by statute or court rule, are governed by the UMA.”

Emphasis mine. Knowing about the UMA, I felt assured that if there were some authority regulating mediators, it would be found there. Small win.

But I hadn’t been approaching the process from a distinctly TEDRA angle, and I felt there was a resource yet untapped. I searched the TEDRA section of Washington Practice’s Probate Law and Practice, and although there is a section on ADR, it’s not a slam dunk procedurally-speaking.

I then thought to check the WSBA Deskbook on Estate Planning, as I remember reading about the TEDRA petitioning process there, maybe six months prior. And lo, a step-by-step, procedural chapter greeted me, complete with a chapter (§13.8) all about the escalation of mediation to arbitration, and appealing from arbitration to superior court. Bingo! I emailed them a scanned copy of this chapter as well as the Community Property chapter (I liked the section explaining the lack of regulation) and a link to the UMA.

So I learned a lot about the Uniform Mediation Act, about ADR under TEDRA, and specifically which resources to grab straightaway next time. And this question also shows the importance of emailing your questions! If I had tried to corral these texts and locate authorities on the phone, I’m sure my responses would have been far less comprehensive. There is a time and a place for asynchronous communication, and legal research is certainly one of them.


The New Supreme Court Paradigm: Legal Research Post-Roe

Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director, King County Law Library

Many people have used the term consequential to describe the October 2021 U.S. Supreme Court term.  Somehow, the word “consequential” doesn’t seem adequate to describe the seismic shift in jurisprudence that just happened and seems destined to continue. I find myself pondering the myriad ways in which the decisions of this term will impact how we argue, teach, and research the law going forward.

Even studying for the July bar exam was impacted.  In late June, Washington along with several state bar associations (and the National Conference of State Bar Examiners) felt compelled to issue statements to offset panic in July test takers that the raft of new U.S. Supreme Court decisions upending laws affecting reproductive rights, religion, gun restrictions, voting rights, criminal, and administrative law would not be tested.[1]  A prospective bar exam taker used a Calvinball analogy to compare the questions and answers in his test prep materials to the what the answers will be after this term. “There’s a bit from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes that’s recently entered the legal lexicon: Calvinball. Calvinball is a game that has no actual rules; in the comic, Calvin and Hobbes just make up the rules as they play.”[2]

Law professors who have relied on essentially the same syllabi for years will have a busy summer figuring out how and when to cover the new decisions in their courses and what to say about precedent.  Legal research will be impacted in many ways as well,  including the following:

Keeping Closer Tabs on Other States’ Laws

One facet of some of the new and pending abortion bans in various states is the attempt to restrict a citizen’s ability to travel to a state where abortion is legal. Justice Kavanaugh addressed this in his concurrence, writing: “Second, as I see it, some of the other abortion-related legal questions raised by today’s decision are not especially difficult as a constitutional matter. For example, may a state bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion? In my view, the answer is no based on the constitutional right to interstate travel.”[3] As noted in the New York Times, “Rory Little, a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, noted a bit of irony on Twitter: “Justice Kavanaugh votes to overrule abortion protections because not specifically mentioned in the Constitution — and then his concurrence relies on an unwritten ‘constitutional right to interstate travel.’” The Times further observes, “Justice Kavanaugh, for his part, cited no precedents or constitutional provisions for his statement that a state may not ‘bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion.’”[4]

Indeed, many states where abortion is protected quickly moved to safeguard persons traveling to obtain abortions. Soon after Dobbs was handed down, Governor Inslee issued a directive to the Washington State Patrol to refuse cooperation with investigations related to abortion and is preparing to take “additional steps to further protect patients from investigative activities by agencies and vigilantes in anti-choice states.”[5]

Notwithstanding Justice Kavanaugh’s assurance, Dobbs portends protracted legal battles between states. For legal research, this underscores the importance of comparative statutory research.  Hein Online’s National Survey of State Laws database is an excellent tool to find legislative surveys comparing similarities and differences in statutory provisions among states. Hein updated their “hot button issues” (abortion, gun control, and voter law) to conform with the recent decisions. Hein Online is available for in-house use at the law library. Another valuable resource is the National Conference of State Legislatures website.  The NCSL website is particularly helpful for tracking pending legislation.  Hein Online also has the Subject Compilation of State Laws which indexes law reviews and other scholarly works that include comparative legislative surveys.  With the lag in publication time for law reviews, this source might be best for historical comparisons for the time being.  Westlaw and Lexis both have 50 state statutory and regulatory surveys – though they should also be scrutinized for currency.  In addition to these traditional resources, newspapers and advocacy organizations can be helpful for finding current laws in a comparative context.

Ancient History

Another thread running through this term’s cases was the emphasis on history and tradition as a lodestar for Constitutional interpretation.  In Dobbs, Justice Alito writes, “Next, the Court examines whether the right to obtain an abortion is rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition and whether it is an essential component of ‘ordered liberty.’ The Court finds that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and tradition.”[6] Leslie Reagan, a professor of history and law, contends that the court gets the history egregiously wrong. “Alito explicitly dismisses the distinction between ending a pregnancy before or after quickening, a distinction that my research has found was critical to the way American women and American physicians traditionally thought about pregnancy. In early America as in early modern England, abortion before “quickening” was legal under common law and widely accepted in practice.”[7]

The court’s emphasis on history and tradition was not limited to Dobbs. It ran through the New York gun law case[8] as well as the Bremerton praying football coach case.[9]  In fact, the words “history” and “tradition” were respectively used 67 and 47 times in Dobbs, and 95 and 51 times in NY Rifle & Gun Club.[10]

Since the court appears to be headed to all originalism, all the time, it’s a good idea to sharpen those multi-disciplinary historical research skills.  While Google Scholar can be a good starting point, both Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System have deeper access to current and historical academic scholarship on their Academic OneFile and ProQuest databases.  The advantage of using these databases over Google Scholar is that you will be able to take advantage of search features such as advanced Boolean searching, abstract searches, and date range limiters.  JSTOR is an excellent database for deep dives into historical journals. While academic libraries are the primary subscribers to JSTOR, early journal content – published prior to the last 95 years in the U.S. and in the last 143 years internationally is available via JSTOR’s Open Access collection.  That time frame would seem to hit the sweet spot for the current Supreme Court.

The Straight Story

There has been much discussion over whether Justice Gorsuch mischaracterized the facts in Kennedy (the praying football coach case).  The heated interchange between Gorsuch and Justice Sotomayor in the main opinion and the dissent echoed the same argument that occurred in the court of appeals. In essence, the dispute is whether Kennedy’s prayers were personal, quiet, and private or whether there was implicit pressure on the team to join in the prayers. Sotomayor took the unusual step of including a photograph of one of  the crowed prayer circles in her dissent. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat questioned the veracity of the majority’s narrative based on reporting that the Times had done on Kennedy in a 2015 article titled Football Coach Vows to Pray. “It describes — in Kennedy’s own words — how he was inspired to start holding midfield prayers with students after he saw an evangelical Christian movie called ‘Facing the Giants,’ in which a losing team finds God and goes on to win the state championship. Kennedy ‘has held his postgame ritual at midfield after each game for a motivational talk and prayer ever since,’ the story recounted. By doing so, Kennedy said he is ‘helping these kids be better people.’”[11] The Football Coach Vows to Pray article ended up in the court record.

Contemporaneous news accounts can be powerful for establishing factual narratives.  While Google searches are a good starting point, more targeted news searching can be done in the aforementioned Seattle Public Library and King County Library System’s Academic OneFile and ProQuest databases.  Both SPL and KCLS have specific databases to access both the current and historical New York Times and  Seattle Times and aggregator databases such as National Newspapers (including Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post) and Washington State Newspapers (over 130 sources across Washington State) that allow for deep dives into content with advanced Boolean searching.  These databases are great way to access news articles that are otherwise hidden behind paywalls.

Have Questions??

If you have questions about any of the resources discussed in this article or would like more research tips, feel free to contact the King County Law Library at


[1] See WSBA Announcement: Examinees taking the NCBE-developed July 2022 MBE, MPT, and MEE will not be required to be familiar with this term’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Available at

[2] See Aaron Regunberg, How the Calvinball Supreme Court Upended the Bar Exam, The New Republic July 12, 2022 Available at:

[3] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.,___U.S. ____  No. 19-1392 (2022). Kavanaugh Concurrence at 11.

[4] See Adam Liptak, The Right to Travel in a Post-Roe World, New York Times (July 11, 2022) available at

[5] See Press Release: Inslee Issues Directive Prohibiting State Law Enforcement Cooperation with Abortion-Related Investigations (June 30, 2022)

[6] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.,___U.S. ____  No. 19-1392 (2022) at 2

[7] See Leslie J. Reagan (Professor of History and Law at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) What Alito Gets Wrong About the History of Abortion in America, Politico (June 2, 2022) available at   (Reagan also explains “quickening” in the historical context. “If it were possible to eavesdrop on conversations among women and some doctors in early America, you might overhear the phrase ‘bringing on the menses.’ If a woman didn’t menstruate when expected, she was considered to be sick and action was required to bring her back to health. Women who had ‘a common cold’ — a euphemism for ‘obstructed’ menses — used a variety of methods, teas and concoctions to bring ‘their menses back.’ In other words, returning menstruation to its normal cycle was within the purview of a woman’s own self-health care and was not regulated by the state until after ‘quickening’ — the moment during a pregnancy when a woman could feel a fetus kick and recognized a life ‘stirring’ within her. Quickening occurred between the fourth and sixth month of pregnancy. Only after quickening was an induced miscarriage, an abortion, considered immoral and banned by law.”)

[8] “To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command.’” New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen .,___U.S. ____  No. 20-843 (June 23, 2022) at 2

[9] “An analysis focused on original meaning and history, this Court has stressed, has long represented the rule rather than some “ ‘exception’ ” within the “Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence.” Kennedy v. Bremerton School District .,___U.S. ____  No. 21-418 (June 27, 2022) at 4

[10] Joe Brandt, The Supreme Court Keeps Citing ‘History and Tradition.’ Whose History? NBC LXNews (June 24, 2022)

[11] See Danny Westneat, The Myth at the Heart of the Praying Bremerton Coach Case (June 29, 2022) available at


Moments of Joy – Art in the Law Library

Tamara Hayes, Technical Services Librarian

Those who visited the downtown courthouse in the before times and entered on Third Avenue should be quite familiar with the murals that cover the first floor of the King County
Courthouse, but did you know there’s more public art to be seen in the building? In the Law Library we have over a dozen works by various artists throughout our space. When the courthouse and Law Library were remodeled back in 2004, the library staff worked with 4Culture to choose pieces that would t in our new space. We’ve added more pieces since the early aughts to fill even more of our large wall space.

Let’s take a tour of some of those pieces.

First, we’ll start at the reference desk where you’ll notice two traditional style rugs hanging on the wall. We get many questions and comments about these rugs. Most people assume they are old and precious, but the truth is they were bought out of necessity from a home goods store to tamper our voices from bouncing around the walls. I think they’ve served their purpose well in addition to looking like works of art.

Now let’s move on to the real art. The first two pieces I’d like to draw your attention to are the sister pieces by Michael Brophy called Past Present: King County Courthouse & Present Past: King County Courthouse. These pieces depict the changing view of the city through a window, presumably in the courthouse. These are the large gray scale pieces done in charcoal that are located on either side of the entrance. These two pieces were among the first to be commissioned for the remodel of the courthouse back in 2001.

When you first walk into the library and look to your left, you’ll see a large colorful piece by Patrick Siler called The Meeting. This lithograph depicts three men wearing hats gathered. This piece is interesting in that the frame isn’t just a frame but is part of the art. The frame is carved and extends the scene depicted. This is probably the most colorful of the pieces in the library.


Another of the first pieces to be noticed when lingering near the reference desk or circulation desk is “The Lawyer” or should I say Super Lawyer. This linocut by Katherine Aoki was inspired by the Powerpuff Girls and is part of a series called Women as Superheroes based on their vocational skills. This is a fun piece that depicts a woman lawyer flying over the city, business card in hand!

Located behind the computers next to the windows is a large design that looks much like a question mark. Patrick Holderfield’s Untitled #91 appears to incorporate watercolor as well as charcoal and colored pencil drawings. I’m certain this work of art was chosen to represent the fact that libraries, historically, are where people bring their unanswered questions.

If you head for the three conference rooms on the north end of the library, you’ll pass a photo of a stack of red books. On the only non-red book spine it reads “People are Important.” This print is by Zack Bent and is called Preaching to the Choir. Next, you’ll run into a display case that holds Black Law Spiral, an intricate glass sculpture by Ginny Ruffner. This is the only sculpture in the library and one of my favorites. Just down the hallway from the sculpture is what I like to call the two heads. These two pieces depict the back of two bald individuals with different colored backgrounds. Both untitled pieces are by LA artist Salomon Huerta. The two heads are among the latest pieces added to our walls.

Tucked away on the wall heading towards the Washington state collection, you’ll see a large bright colorful piece called Hardangerfjord by Suzanne Caporael. Ms. Caporael was inspired by freighters in a Norwegian harbor and I think once you understand that you’ll be able to see the movement of the water in the lithograph and maybe even imagine boats bobbing in the water.

Near the state Supreme Court Briefs, you’ll find a painting of a teacup waiting to be filled by the steaming blue and white jug and maybe a cherry as a sweet treat. This painting, titled Jug, was done by local husband and wife duo Julie Paschkis & Joe Max Emminger. Though each artist has their own style they were able to collaborate and create a piece that looks seamless

Finally, I want to draw your attention to a few pieces that are tucked away in conference rooms. The first, a charcoal drawing by Douglas Cooper, can be found in our Legal Research and Training Center. Mr. Cooper is also responsible for the murals on the first floor of the courthouse. The drawing is called South Seattle Bridge and depicts the Jose Rizal Bridge looking towards Elliott Bay. In conference room one, you’ll find a Brad Brown piece called Third Drift 46-54 which is made up of nine squares that are composed of different torn pieces of paper. In conference room six there’s a photo of a fountain surrounded by a fence with what looks to be signs leaning against it. Fountain #1 by Jeff Krolick reminds me of a reflecting pool where you might want to sit and enjoy the sunshine for a bit.

I once heard art described as a moment of joy in a home. We hope the next time you’re in the library you take a moment to enjoy a couple of the art pieces in our space. Keep an eye on our website for a video tour of the law library’s art collection.

Tamara Hayes is the law library’s technical services librarian and in-house art aficionado. She has worked at the library for 20+ years and is the glue that holds the place together.

Ross’ Ref Q’s – Common carriers



Welcome back to Ross’ Ref Q’s. We had a bye month in July, and to get the Ref Q wheels turning once again, August’s Q is… something of a nothingburger. Instead of highlighting interesting reference strategies, this Q allows me to ruminate on the limits of human capacity and the nature of regret. No, I’m not fun at parties.

The question came from who I assumed was an attorney-type:

Who is defined as a common carrier “passenger” in Washington?

My little knowledge of common carriers comes from reading about the political movement to treat internet providers as common carriers. What they are are essentially logistic companies responsible for transporting goods or services and that are available to the public. Operating as a common carrier opens you up to certain liabilities, because you’re establishing a duty to your passengers or payloads.

Which is enough of a background to ask, well, who is considered a passenger?

The question came in a month or two ago, and I’m unable to faithfully replicate the information search on which I embarked. I know that I opened up Westlaw and therein the digital version of Washington Practice, as I typically do, and I believe I tried using the search box for “common carrier” in the Civil Procedure and Elements of an Action volumes. Why these? I believe the patron suggested Elements of an Action, which I latched onto. Civil Procedure was probably just force of habit. These aren’t an apt fit though, in hindsight, and as such they returned no results. At that point, I think I was flustered and backed away from state-specific resources, and instead retrieved the CJS volume that dealt with common carriers, and sure enough there was a section on what constitutes a passenger. Resource: found. Mission: accomplished-ish.

Returning to the question to see if there was enough meat for this column, I searched all of Washington Practice off the bat, not specific volumes and found… many, many relevant sections: Pattern jury instructions for what constitutes a common carrier passenger in Washington. Lengthy sections in the Torts volume that deal with this very question. How did I miss these? CJS is fine, but these are state-specific and I mean, literal jury instructions (ie plain English statutory heuristics). The Torts volume itself would have ably answered his question, or even the Methods of Practice volume. How did I miss all of this?

I don’t know why I didn’t search more broadly in Washington Practice. And now, months removed, I can’t recall any factors that may have affected me: Was it busy? I don’t remember a line. Was the user impatient? It’s possible, but usually such dispositions don’t influence my work, or I like to think that they don’t. Was I distracted, or was there cause for underperformance? Well, my toddler started daycare in May, and I’ve been sick and harried for most of the time since, which I don’t like to posit- but even so, I routinely locate resources without fail.

It seems to come down to the fact that I’m human and made a mistake, whatever the cause. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but even a slight error like this seems to haunt me. Part of it is the ramifications of law librarianship- what if I gave a similarly off base resource to a pro se patron? What if someone relied on an authority I provided, which led to their complete and utter ruin?

That would suck for sure. But I have to remind myself I can only do my best, and admit that in my position, I’m more likely to help someone starting off than ruin someone’s long fought progress – if I were able to knock their action into disarray, as a public librarian, it is likely the situation was tenuous and likely to fall into disarray anyway. Or, that’s what I tell myself to push forward.

But there is some research strategy to be gleaned. Fairly obviously, it helps to start with a wide net, then narrow your focus as you go. In this case, starting a search in Westlaw for the Q in all of Washington Practice would have yielded a book in hand within a minute or so. This is true for other databases and physical resources as well- don’t commit yourself to a single chapter if you aren’t certain it’s what you need.

With that, a related consideration barely worth dwelling on is that I’m sure I latched onto Elements of an Action because the user suggested it. I almost never recommend that volume because there’s usually a better fit, so I suppose the user’s suggestion carried additional weight. I wonder if they hadn’t suggested it, would I have performed a general search off the bat? I can’t say, but it’s worth considering that past experience, that of a user or our own experience, shouldn’t constrain our strategy and should be taken with a small grain of salt. Again, keeping an information search more general off the bat is preferred, because, in this situation, a general search of Washington Practice would have displayed chapters from Elements of an Action anyway, if they existed.

There’s also the matter of defining good enough. From what I recall, the attorney was grateful for the CJS chapter and carried on his way. If the user was happy, it’s possible that resource was “good enough.” I should smile more.

Join us next month for another great Ref Q—hopefully one less suited to my depressive inclinations. シ

Ross’ Ref Q’s – Can I evict a subtenant?

We get a lot of reference questions at the King County Law Library.
The refrain goes that because we aren’t practicing attorneys, we can’t offer legal advice—as librarians, we can only offer resources.
That said, some questions are very interesting & inspire me to do some research of my own, collected here in this column. Don’t construe this as legal advice!


This is Ross’ Ref Q’s, a monthly column that looks at real law library reference questions with some kind of deeper payoff: Perhaps you’ll learn a novel research strategy or the answer to an unorthodox procedural question. This installment’s lesson can be largely distilled down to the dictum: don’t take anything for granted.

Someone came to the reference desk. They said that they wanted to evict someone and that [an agency] sent them our way, saying that we have a kit. We do have a kit. The short spiel on that goes: the bulk of “forms” for residential evictions aren’t necessarily state-provided, fill-in-the-blank forms, but are instead drafted one-off (usually by attorneys). Many small time landlords can’t afford attorney hourly rates, so KCLL worked with a local attorney to offer a kit that includes the typically necessary forms as well as instructions for the process. It can be bought in-library and on our website too.

There is a distinction in librarianship, and I suppose in customer service overall, where you want to follow the customer’s lead-to a degree. If someone comes in looking for a form packet for divorce, for example, I will clarify if they have kids or if the divorce is contested, as there are additional form sets in either case. But I won’t ask if they want to look at the Legal Separation packet, because while legal separation is similar to divorce and achieves many of the same outcomes, it is discrete enough that I have to assume they would request it specifically.

I will print the eviction kit on demand given the conversation flows as it usually does: Someone will come in and say they’re at wits end, a tenant has been causing trouble, they haven’t been paying rent, and they need them gone. That’s clear enough, that’s an eviction. Or they may even say, in a questioning voice, “I need an…unlawful detainer?” If that part is unclear I’ll ask if they want to evict someone or they are being evicted-of course, the methods vary greatly there. But I don’t ask if they’ve considered a protection order. It can have the same result, but I have to assume the person knows what they’re talking about, to a certain degree.

With COVID-19 changes to eviction law/procedure, we started prefacing eviction kit sales with some questions. “Are you aware of the moratoria?” Then, “Is the property located in Seattle or Burien?” These two had the longest lasting moratoria ie for the longest time, the kit wouldn’t work in these municipalities. But otherwise, I’ve assumed this person was a landlord and wanting to follow standard unlawful detainer actions under Washington Landlord-Tenant Law.

So, anyway… Someone came to the reference desk. They said that they wanted to evict someone and that [an agency] sent them our way, saying that we have a kit. We do have a kit.

With the moratoria finished, I ask the one qualifying question I have left: “Just to be sure, is the person you’re trying to evict on a lease?” They affirmed, I started swerving my cursor around to print the packet.

As I’m doing so, the patron continued railing against the renter, and casually lamented that it would have been great to have a roommate that actually helped with rent, but this person wasn’t paying. That’s a wrinkle.

I pull my cursor away from the “Print” button, and asked for clarification, “I might have misunderstood, are you the owner of the property?”

“No, I rent the place. I’m trying to evict my roommate.”

Ah. I’ve seen this before, and while I am not a lawyer, I feel comfortable saying, “Unfortunately landlord-tenant law, and eviction in general, is meant for … landlords and tenants. You can’t evict a roommate. There are resources out there, such as the Tenants’ Union and…”

So the conversation again diverged but again settled into an existing track. I have given this spiel before, and hope I didn’t speak mechanically. I asked if they have a relationship with their landlord, perhaps the landlord would want to evict him for not paying rent.

Then, interrupting, “But I am kinda his landlord. I’m subletting a room to him.”

Ah. This is a wrinkle I hadn’t seen before. At last, we’ve arrived at our titular ref q:

Can I evict a subtenant?

I brought up the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act on the Legislature’s website, clicked “Complete Chapter” and used Ctrl+F to look for “subl” which is broad enough to capture sublease and sublessor or sublessee, The Act includes “subl” five times, but makes only oblique references to sublessees and sublessors, mostly about drug-related prohibitions. These inclusions tell me that subtenancy seemingly isn’t regulated or prohibited in a unique way—there would probably be a section devoted to it, or at least some mention.

But in so searching, I see the word subtenant, so I search “subt” next. I see some more drug-related talk, the word “subtract,” but then…

RCW 59.18.410 — Forcible entry or detainer or unlawful detainer actions—Notice of default—Writ of restitution—Judgment—Execution.

RCW 59.18.650 — Eviction of tenant, refusal to continue tenancy, end of periodic tenancy—Cause—Notice—Penalties.

These are run-of-the-mill unlawful detainer statutes. “Subtenant” isn’t used in a majorly qualifying way, but in-line with other forms of tenancy.

If someone was asking our question in an academic way, I might give them the annotated code and let them continue research, but since our ref q has the embedded subquestion, “Can we use this eviction packet?” statutes weren’t an end point.

Instead, I grabbed the WSBA Real Property Deskbook. Knowing that some primary law existed in the RCWs gave me confidence that a secondary source like a deskbook would discuss subtenancy, and I wasn’t let down. §17.11(1)(a) discusses the differences between assignments and subleases—It’s a distinction worth noting because evidently a sublease without a reversion (the expectation that full possession of the property will revert to the original leaseholder for at least one day before the end of the balance term) is actually an assignment (which is the transfer of an entire balance of a lease). That subsection goes on to say “Between themselves, the head tenant and the subtenant stand in a true landlord-tenant relationship. The head tenant may bring an unlawful detainer action against its subtenant” and quotes relevant case law. Bingo. But, the subsection also offers this practice tip, “Many intended subleases are actually assignments or partial assignments because the head tenant fails to reserve a reversion. A party who makes an assignment instead of a sublease will not be able to recover possession through unlawful detainer.” Huh.

The patron made it out that they had a verbal sublease and not for the remaining balance, they were only supposed to be there until they got back on their feet. Is this periodic tenancy? Landlord-tenant RCWs swam before my eyes. I did my usual qualifiers (I’m not an attorney, you should probably talk to one, I can’t interpret the law or tell you what your rights are, but) and explained what I read. I said I can’t say for sure, but it appears you have a subtenancy, not an assignment, and it appears subtenant eviction falls under the purview of the Landlord-Tenant Act, which is what our packet is designed to do, and that while our packet costs $60 and could potentially fail for some reason, an attorney would certainly cost more. He ended up buying the packet.



Fantastic Beasts of Administrative Law and Where to Find Them

Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director, King County Law Library

Unless the focus of one’s practice is a heavily regulated area of law, most attorneys don’t engage with Washington administrative law very often. If the occasion arises where one must enter this murky realm, fear and trepidation can ensue. Not to worry, the following tips will guide you to resources to find and tame the fantastic beasts of Washington administrative law.

Is it Lurking in the Shadows?

Whether or not regulatory law impacts a legal issue can sometimes be difficult to determine. A good rule of thumb at the outset of any research project is to check whether there is a statute that applies. If there is, you’ll want to make sure you are aware of any related regulations. The fastest way to do this is to use an annotated code. Annotated codes are like the Room of Requirements [1] to aid a seeker in need. If your research question involves a controlling statute, an annotated code can quickly give you a bird’s eye view of the statute in context . While most people use annotated codes to find case law discussing a statute, the annotations also include other information like relevant law review articles, Washington treatise sections, legislative history and commentary, and … applicable regulations.

You may be tempted to skip this step, but remember, when passing laws, legislators often draft the language in broad brushstrokes and task administrative agencies with effectuating the details. In essence, legislators create the broad statutory mandate and rely on agency expertise to fill in the gaps.

Do You Have a Map?

The reason that legislatures delegate rulemaking authority to administrative agencies is because the issues are complicated and require professional, subject matter expertise. Similarly, for researchers, delving directly into primary regulatory sources can be a fool’s errand. A better bet is to use the Marauder’s Map [2] of secondary research resources to help you uncover what may otherwise appear hidden to the naked eye. For example, while some Washington administrative regulations stand on their own, others work in tandem with federal regulations. Think securities or environmental regulations. A good secondary source will not only help you analyze the applicable Washington regulations but will also help you understand how federal regulations may fit into the context.

I generally start with the agency website. While the first few layers are usually intended for lay persons, more technical information can be found by delving deeper or using advanced searching. Next, I search the WSBA deskbooks, Washington Practice, and other Washington specific treatises before moving on to general jurisdiction treatises. If you need contemporaneous discussion of regulations from when they  were created, law review articles from UW, SU, and Gonazga law schools and bar bulletin articles from that time period can often prove helpful, as can CLEs.

Do You Understand the Wizarding World?

Just like the Ministry of Magic [3], agencies wield quite a bit of power. They create regulations (a primary source of law), hold judicial proceedings, and can mete out fines and punishments. In order to effectively research administrative law, it’s good to have a baseline understanding of the administrative process. There are many mechanisms to keep agency powers in check, the most important of which is that agencies must have authority handed down to them before they can create rules. Rulemaking can be triggered by 1) a mandate from the state legislature, 2) a federal law or rule, 3) a court decision, or 4) a petition for rulemaking. Washington’s state Administrative Procedure Act ensures that the agencies are acting within the scope of their delegated authority for rulemaking and are fair and impartial in their adjudications.

The Washington Administrative Law Practice Manual is the go-to resource for understanding the intricacies of the rulemaking process and agency adjudications. For example: Can the agency’s proposed rule differ substantially from the final rule? See Chapter 7.06 [L]. Is hearsay allowed in administrative adjudications? See Chapter 9.05[E][1].

From What Swamp Did It Hatch?

Sometimes you’ll want to research the history of a regulation. While a Time Turner [4] would be nice, with a little bit of effort you’ll do just as well on your own. Much of your Washington regulatory history research will be done in the Washington State Register (WSR). Fortunately, most research from the mid-1990s forward can be done on-line. The Washington State Legislature’s website integrates regulatory history into Washington Administrative Code (WAC) entries. Just look for the bright yellow link that says, “Agency filings affecting this section” and you’ll be directed to the WSR entries for the proposed and permanent rules for the WAC you are researching.

A special point to consider. When doing a regulatory history, be sure to look for the Concise Explanatory Statement (CES). The concise explanatory statement is the method by which an agency ensures that it considered all the public comments/arguments as required by the Washington APA. It has been said that the CES is probably the most important document an agency must prepare in the rule-making process. [5] The CES is critical for determining whether agencies acted arbitrarily or capriciously when adopting the rule. Many agencies post their Concise Explanatory Statements on their websites. If you can’t find the CES you are looking for, just contact the agency and request it. If you commented on a rule during the rule-making process, the agency should automatically send you a copy.

Accio Law Library!

If you need more help researching Washington regulations or any other topic, use your summoning spell to contact the law library. Don’t worry, we don’t have a Restricted Section [6] of the dark arts and Madame Pince [7] will not be breathing down your neck when you use our resources. Email us at and let us help you find and tame the fantastic beasts of Washington administrative law. In the words of Albus Dumbledore: “Help will always be offered to those who ask for it.”


1 See Harry Potter Glossary, available at (Come and Go Room. Also known as the Room of Requirement, it is on the seventh floor of Hogwarts, opposite the Barnabus the Barmy tapestry. The room is sometimes there, sometimes not. It can only be entered by people with a real need, who must walk past the part of wall three times while concentrating on what they need. The room will then appear fully equipped with all their immediate requirements.)

2 Id (Marauder’s Map. A map that shows all the secret passageways and the current whereabouts of everyone in Hogwarts).

3 Id (Ministry of Magic. Government agency that tries to keep witches and wizards secret from non-magical people.)

4 Id (Time Turner. Hourglass that allows the wearer to travel back in time.)

5 See Washington Administrative Law Practice Manual [7.06][M] citing Aviation West Corp. v. Dep’t of Labor and Indus., 138 Wn.2d 413, 980 P.2d 701 (1999)

Ross’ Ref Q’s – Get rid of criminal records

We get a lot of reference questions at the King County Law Library.
The refrain goes that because we aren’t practicing attorneys, we can’t offer legal advice—as librarians, we can only offer resources.
That said, some questions are very interesting & inspire me to do some research of my own, collected here in this column. Don’t construe this as legal advice!


Welcome back to another exciting edition of Ross’ Ref Q’s. As a reminder, we’re here to interrogate heady reference questions, or otherwise note unique research strategies. In the first round, we  looked at avenues for suing the President — the short answer there is that you really can’t sue the President for damages for official acts, which is what most people want. That question was a little off the wall, but it’s asked somewhat frequently and it allowed for a unique look at how we tackle “getting started” questions. This month’s question, on the other hand, looks at a process found at the tail end of a court process:

How Do I Get Rid of My Criminal Record?

This is a straight forward question, but one that is complicated to answer. It is complicated because people can mean different things when saying “get rid” of their record, complicated because whichever path they have in mind isn’t always possible, and complicated because the “correct” path isn’t obvious via court-provided materials.

What does it mean to get rid of your criminal record?

I chose this general phrasing because for one, this is how the question often arrives, but it also underpins the typical nature of the question: folks have a criminal record and they want it sealed, perhaps, or vacated (often these terms are used interchangeable, but as we’ll see, they are not). Whichever way, they want it gone. Understandable.

The first step is to ask about their criminal record and ascertain what type of conviction they have. Then we’ll talk about what exactly they want done. This can hopefully be hashed out in a few sentences. Important distinctions are whether the conviction was for a felony or a misdemeanor, whether they were a minor at the time of conviction or an adult, and what they want their record to be: totally clear and empty, or to simply restrict access to case information? This last part touches on the important distinction between vacating convictions vs. sealing a record. 

Learning about their criminal record up front is crucial because depending on the conviction, it’s possible that it can’t be sealed, destroyed, vacated, or much else. But before we get too far, what do all these terms mean? The first resource to which I’ll point people is Washington Courts’ guide on “Sealing and Destroying Court Records, Vacating Convictions, and Deleting Criminal History Records.” This has general definitions as well as basic steps to these processes. The downside is that this guide is vague and not actionable for a pro se library user. But, it does speak authoritatively about what’s possible, so it serves as a worthwhile jumping off point.

Let’s talk sealing.

First I’ll offer the primary authority on “Destruction, Sealing, and Redaction of Court Records:” GR 15 / LGR 15.

What we can learn between these rules and the above court guide above is that sealing means preventing access to a court record, and that this cannot be accomplished for adult criminal cases that resulted in a conviction.

So, we are seemingly left sealing records that are either juvenile or civil.

If the user wants to seal juvenile court records, there exist DIY form packets and third party resources, in addition to the Washington Courts’ pattern forms. I’d usually pull these up on my monitor and encourage the user to use our computers or their smart phone to learn more.

Civil sealing comes up frequently at the law library, although this clearly diverges from this reference question prompt. In short, going this route involves first filing a motion and order to seal. There is a King County Clerk-provided Order, but strangely they have not provided a matching motion. Folks have to use the general family law motion and make it work.

But our question here is about criminal cases. Juvenile records have the potential to be sealed, but not adult records? What else can be done with adult convictions?

Let’s talk vacation. 

Vacating means to set aside a conviction—if you successfully vacate a conviction you can truthfully say you were not convicted. Chapter 9.96 of the RCW deals with misdemeanors, RCW 9.94A.640 is for felonies.

What’s possible re: vacation has to do with how the conviction was classified:

If it was a misdemeanor, I point people to the Washington Law Help article.

If it was a non-violent Class B or C Felony, I similarly point them to the Washington Law Help article. Washington Courts provides an overview on this as well, but Washington Law Help displays the information in a more pleasing manner, to my eyes. There’s also the Courts bank of forms, but again, I think WLH provides a more guided experience, plus I don’t like to recommend forms if I don’t have to.

If the conviction resulted from a crime committed as a juvenile, the Washington Law Help packet mentioned in the sealing section is helpful.

Lastly, and though it’s beyond our focus here, WLH also has a Motion to Vacate packet for the civil side as well.

Expunge? And a broader view of the issue.

Whereas sealing and vacation have to do with altering or clearing legal records, expungement is the deletion of criminal records on the law enforcement side. This is handled exclusively by the Washington State Patrol- they have an FAQ and a form. From my understanding though, the only thing they will delete is non-conviction related data… which isn’t usually with what our users are concerned.

But this ties into a larger issue with these yet disjointed actions (sealing, vacating, expunging): you can’t seal records that led to a conviction, and Washington State Patrol will only delete non-conviction data… but vacation hand waves away convictions. So I’m left with the impression that if you vacate first, you can then fully seal and expunge the court and law enforcement records, because they’re not pointing to a conviction, right?

I’m not so sure. In an actual reference interview, the Washington Courts guide and the Washington Law Help articles are more than enough to get folks started, and they provide resources for next steps as well. My goal isn’t necessarily to personally educate people, but instead to provide resources (my having said this lets you mark off the center square in your Law Library bingo card), and these resources serve well.

What do?

If someone is totally lost in the process or has some barrier that is otherwise stalling them (perhaps a Class A Felony), and honestly in many other situations, it’s best to talk to an actual expert. And with this situation, there are several local groups that can guide people through this process:

Why go it alone? I think the combination of (1) The Washington Courts guide, (2) A relevant Washington Law Help article/form packet, and (3) these agencies, most everyone can clear their record, insomuch as that is possible.