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This is going to be a short one!

What I intended for this month is being pushed to next—it’s something I’ve had in mind for a while re: epistemology at the law library, but it’s already 12 paragraphs long and I haven’t really reached a thesis. It might end up being a bit of a Kinder egg, like me: appealing and sweet, but ultimately hollow. Stay tuned!

I just got this question: Are the RCWs protected by copyright?

On its face, I want to say, NO. Because how could they be? But of course, we shy away from off-the-cuff Yes/No answers, and perhaps it’s not so straightforward…

I fired up copyright.gov and clicked through these pages:

Ctrl+F for “law” “laws” “statutes” etc. (not helpful when investigating copyright “law,” hmm) reveals nada.

This page says that copyright “does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something,” which, that sounds a whole lot like the law but they won’t come right out and say it!

We don’t see a lot of federal stuff here—my beloved Washington Practice, WSBA deskbooks -worthless! So, I head on over to old google.com and search “are state laws protected by copyright,” which I acknowledge is a genius-tier move. Mercifully there was a Wikipedia page that discusses this very issue, complete with case law and USC citations.

When I was in high school, Wikipedia broke through as a major resource, but as students we were discouraged from using it at all – “anybody can edit it!” Nowadays, I don’t think that Wikipedia is some bogeyman from which librarians should shy away, nor is it the end of the line, research-wise. I think of it as a valid jumping off point. Check out the references, click on the citations, check the cases in Westlaw! That is, the customer should do all this—to me, my emailing them the Wiki link (and some context) constituted my walking away from this query.

One last thing about this question is that it was framed as a hypothetical: the classic case of two buddies resolving a bet. I shared the above information just as if there was active litigation, so it’s not like I dismissed it, but there’s something in me that flinches when questions of this nature come in, and I can’t decisively say why.

One angle is that while we’re open to the public, we are a “special library” – you have to be doing legal research to physically use our space. But it’s true that this is legal research… and then some part of me wonders, “to what degree does it matter if it’s real?”

What makes a case or a legal question “real?”

It’s not a likelihood of a court win, as to operate by that standard would be unjust and impossible to determine anyway. Indeed, there are folks who come into the library in the throes of mental crisis, and their questions are often nonsensical, but ultimately, as librarians, we do try and answer as best we can. And, like this question, these are often interesting legal questions! So, to a large degree, we have to take each reference question as it comes and respond to it on its face, without thinking of its reality-based utility or outcome.

The question “what makes something real?” —is it worth considering at all? Perhaps my forthcoming column on epistemology in the courthouse will shine some light on this!




Hey! I started writing this monthly blog a year ago now. What a year it’s been: 365 days, 52 weeks, four seasons – the whole shebang. And so many delightful ref q’s. Now, in that time, I haven’t received an iota of feedback, and it’s possible I’m typing away into the void, but isn’t that the nature of anything? If this blog had won the Pulitzer (which I still can’t believe I was robbed of this first year—it still stings), wouldn’t that voice still be whispering in my ear, “memento mori?” No? Oh.

A year of ref q’s! Some of these require me going through old notes or sent emails, trying to capture something thoughtful that fits the gist of the blog. Other times, a Q stays with me, and I have no say in investigating further – such is the case this month.

Someone emailed saying they were looking for a “form to withdraw my motion.” No further information was provided. The way I interpreted that was, a motion was submitted, it had not been heard by a judicial officer, and maybe it hadn’t even been served on the other party. Simply, a motion was filed, and the emailer came to immediately regret it, and want to hit “undo.” Surprisingly, I have no recollection of having received this Q before, and my coworkers said the same. The way forward wasn’t obvious.

The first route to explore was Rule 15 (Amended and Supplemental Pleadings). We’re used to getting Q’s about amending pleadings, and if you squint, that’s kinda what the person wants… But not really. They wanted to take a whole motion and amend it to say “nvm.” Does that count?

After searching the Washington Practice chapters on Pre-Trial Motions and also Pleadings, and then talking with my colleagues, this seemed like unfortunately the best route. CR 7 (Motions) and CR 10 (Pleadings) don’t address retractions, withdrawals, or whatever else you’d call this. But sometimes the rules don’t address something seemingly obvious, so practitioners need to grab onto something, anything tangentially related. I let the emailer know that this was a surprisingly uncommon ask, and that CR 15 is the closest thing with which we could come up.

This was weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to shake the idea that this Q remained unanswered. It’s true that with The Law, perfect solutions are in short supply, but all the same, I couldn’t get over it. There seemed to be two tandem goals:

  1. I wish I hadn’t submitted this motion – CTRL +Z.
  2. I regret making this motion and don’t want it to take effect.

(1) is a fairly straightforward “not gonna happen.” Once you submit something to the clerk’s office, it’s theirs and public record (short of sealing the file, which is not a given in any situation). They are literally not going to hand it back.

So, the effort seems to boil down to stopping the motion from taking effect, and ASAP. Because of course the emailer could dutifully serve the other party and attend the hearing, to only then say “nvm” but that is weak sauce and obvious. “It’s my motion, and I want to withdraw it now!

Other ideas swirled around my noggin. Could you use a motion to strike (CR 12(f))? These are technically a defensive maneuver, but couldn’t you ask the court to strike your own motion as “immaterial?” It’s somewhat silly, and nothing in Washington Practice suggests this is even a possible path, but I couldn’t find enough to rule it out.

Could you contact the clerks or the bailiff and ask to cancel the motion hearing? If there is no set time for the motion to be heard, it won’t be! It will sorta just float away in the judicial aether, right? So far this seems the most straightforward and quick approach. But what if there was an even easier way?

I did something unusual and walked across the hall to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office and asked around. After some bouncing around, I was told the emailer could file a Motion to Vacate Ex Parte Via the Clerk. I reiterated that there isn’t a signed order, there is just a submitted motion, but the clerk stuck with their answer and I went on my way. This didn’t seem correct- CR 60 is titled “Relief from Judgment or Order” and the emailer has neither a judgment nor an order. Section (c) of CR 60 does technically say, “This rule does not limit the power of a court to entertain an independent action to relieve a party from a judgment, order, or proceeding.” Emphasis mine. But in reading through the entirety of Washington Practice – Rules Practice on CR 60, usage for this purpose is not even slightly addressed. My more tenured colleagues dismissed this idea out of hand.

I began to feel like Quinn in Auster’s City of Glass, but instead of waiting in an alleyway for Stillman, I was looking at the Westlaw homepage, with the cursor blinking in an empty search bar. How could such a simple question not have a simple answer? Was the cursor blinking in morse code, “yr dumb?”

Finally, with weeks gone by, I reached out to local attorney Rosemarie LeMoine, who has volunteered with the library on a number of webinars and videos. I don’t want to exhaust our volunteer attorneys’ goodwill with every silly question I have (I have many), but as someone who whittles away his hours counseling others, “you need legal advice from an attorney,” I figured I would get some legal advice of my own.

Her answer… you simply contact the commissioners’ email address (family law) or the bailiff (general civil cases) and ask them to strike the motion! Of course, you have to CC the other party, but just like that… you ask them to strike it! And then, it’s stricken! Beautiful.

None of the books I consulted nor the veteran courthouse employees I spoke with suggested that this was a possibility. It took talking to a seasoned attorney (a million thanks to Rosemarie) to know that emailing a commissioner/bailiff to strike a motion is even an option. This is probably common knowledge for actual practitioners, but for the pro se’s and other outsiders (like librarians), it’s impossible to discern.

It’s been that folks have approached the reference desk wanting to know a court rule, but in seeing the Civil Rules or Local Family Law Rules, they’ve lowered their voice and said, “Isn’t there something else?” Another way to achieve X, Y, or Z. And I’ve replied confidently, “There are no secret rules.” But now I wonder, what other pathways remain hidden? It’s often the case that the more complex a reference question seems, the simpler its answer must be, but do all the simple questions require some arcane knowledge? What else remains obscured? Tune in next month for another Ross’ Req Q’s to find out!





Happy new year! 2023 – doesn’t that seem excessive? That’s a lot of years. But it’s February now, which marks my third year of employment at the law library. Now that’s cause for celebration.

Today’s ref q is notable because it features the technique of using procedure meant for the opposing party as a guide. When the resources are paltry for the responding side (often for changes to parenting plans, or responding to a protection order), it is often beneficial to read instructions meant for the petitioner, and in those shadows and gaps we can discern how best to respond. Today we return to property law.

Someone called in asking what to do about the lien on their house. They said it had been ten months and they wanted to remove the lien. Well, that makes sense. Like an itch at the center of your back, when we think of liens at all, the idea is to be relieved of them.

Prior to this interaction, here is what I knew about liens: they are attached to your property via the Recorder’s office, they are a mar on the title, and I knew of a good resource to recommend for those claiming a lien- but not one for those on the receiving end. 

My first instinct, as usual, was of dumb misunderstanding. Well of course they want the lien removed, did they pay the contractor? No, but ten months had passed. I didn’t follow – weren’t liens more or less permanent? Isn’t that their whole deal? Weren’t liens supposed to make selling your house more difficult? HUH?

I didn’t have a good understanding of how liens work! Not aware of resources for the property owner, I opened up that BIAW How-To and read all the way through. The last paragraph states:

Your lien will survive for eight months after recording, unless before the eight months is up, you choose to bring a lawsuit to foreclose on the lien or file a Release of Lien or Conditional Release of Lien.

8 months? Could that be right? I checked Washington Practice: Creditor’s Remedies and Debtor’s Relief, which pointed me to statutes: it was right. The lien lives for eight months, in which time the claimant can force a foreclosure to be paid- but after 8 months, that threat goes away.

In that way, the lien is perpetual. If it’s not removed, it stays on the deed. It just can’t be enforced. But other sources state that this serves the claimant as well. Of course, if the bills have been paid up, the lien should be released (or the claimant can be rightly sued) – but if not, the lien, enforceable or not, lives on at the Recorder’s Office- clouding the title to some degree, So the owner may still be induced to pay up, though the lien can’t force the owner into foreclosure. But the flip side is that the owner may have rights to sue the claimant to remove the lien.

So, to me, the situation necessitates removing the lien – perhaps the contractor will fill out a Release of Lien form, or perhaps the homeowners should sue. But the important thing is to use whatever resources you have at your disposal, and fill in the gaps as best as you can.




It’s December! I have updated our KCLL Newsletter to the “winter theme” and am very much enjoying this snowy start to what is my favorite season. [I just looked and apparently some department head, King Winter, whoever, says that winter officially starts on December 21 (solstice). What a crock, right? If it were December 20th and you said, “What a lovely autumn day!” I would think you a psychopath and allow the widest berth possible… Winter obviously runs December 1 through the end of February.] Anyway, I love the cold, the rain, and the darkness, which I know is odd—I’ve heard it said that for someone who needs a compensatory reason to enjoy winter, they can think, “Well, you need the winter’s constant rain to have our amazing forests,” which is of course true, but I’m happy without such a justification.

That’s all to say, gratitude is on my mind. I’m grateful to see my warm breath in the morning. I’m grateful for personal and familial reasons that exceed the scope of this blog. And I’m grateful for my coworkers at the law library, who are kind and patient with me, and who are always a bastion of knowledge. Counting on my fingers and toes, between the six of us, we have 78 combined years of experience (with a tenure of less than three years, I’m obviously tanking the average tenure of ~13 years), which means that given any specific or oddball question, one of us has an answer, or a direction in which to look.

“But Ross,” you might ask, “would you stop dithering and tell us the precious Ref Q?” Well, the Ref Q is one simply answered, and frankly not the focus of today’s column in many ways:

I work for a bank that has foreclosed on a house. The [previous] owner won’t leave. Will your eviction packet work in this situation?

That’s the gist of the email I received. If you have some background in real property, the answer to this question is glaringly obvious. I’m going to spare you my research play-by-play to say: no, eviction is the process for booting someone when there’s a landlord-tenant relationshipejectment is the correct process for this situation, which is a special type of proceeding (akin to quieting a title) under RCW 7.28. It’s, from what I’ve read since, a lengthier process vs. eviction. It’s also fairly complicated, so the querier was encouraged to seek counsel. 

“But Ross,” you’re wailing through bitter tears, “what about the research lessons to be learned? Have you totally abandoned the thrust of this column?”

Rest easy, dear reader, because today’s lesson has arrived. I looked through our eviction packet, I looked through the Landlord-Tenant statutes, and I tried many search queries- to no avail. After a long while, I leaned over to ask a coworker and they immediately replied, “It’s ejectment, not eviction.” Again, this is probably obvious to those with a background, but I had never seen it before. My coworker had.

As I then read up on ejectment, I got a laugh out of the Washington Practice introduction on the topic (Real Estate: Transactions – Stoebuck/Weaver) and shared this quote with another coworker:

Not only that sentence and that section but the entire chapter are poorly organized, a patchwork quilt of several different actions, created at different times by the legislature and jumbled together in ways that often make it difficult to tell which provisions pertain to which actions.

That coworker replied, “Ejectment?”

And so, I’m grateful for institutional knowledge, a source of knowledge that I consistently fail to think of as foundational. It’s true that I often seek such input from my coworkers, despite my fear of being seen as an imposition—but it needs saying that for research purposes, people are as useful, if not more so, than any database. Relying on others is a good thing. Of course, something is gained in initially trying your own hand, and you should verify important information gained on your own, but there’s no use in beating your head against a wall when a colleague is happy to help.

My imagined, irate reader is now seething—was the point of this column really so obvious? To encourage asking for help? Yep! I’m a firm believer that the atomization of society won’t last, and there’s no future where we don’t embrace our need for one another. So go ahead, enter the hardware store and immediately flag down the nearest worker! Give yourself a shot on the assignment, but don’t fail to ask for your boss’ input! And if you’re at a research dead end, don’t hesitate to contact us at the law library! We’re happy to help.

Happy holidays!

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.

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.


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.



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.



Ross’ Ref Q’s – How do I sue the President?

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 to the first edition of my column, Ross’ Ref Q’s, wherein interesting KCLL reference questions are interrogated. I’ve only been with the law library for two years (a bulk of which was during our COVID shutdown), and as such I’m still somewhat green with legal reference—my previous library experience was in municipal and community college libraries. I love this job because I’m always learning, and here in this column, perhaps you will learn something too. Or perhaps you will be entertained by my unsophisticated research; I’ll take what I can get!

A goal of this column is to highlight questions that might be pertinent to KCLL users— though to get the ball rolling I’ve chosen a reference question that is slightly off the wall, but is asked often enough to warrant attention:

How do I sue the President?

What I love about this question, which is the most common phrasing, is that it blows right past “CAN I sue the President,” which is a somewhat more interesting and tricky question. As procedural questions go, though, the can does impact the how, as we’ll see.

This is also a question that has received a fair amount of interest recently. These publications are worth a read, however in treating this column like an actual reference interview, in which I tend to prefer treatises over online articles or posts, I’ll simply leave these hyperlinks embedded for your casual perusal.

My first thought was about personal jurisdiction. Presidents have been sued before, but were they being sued as The President, or as private citizens who happened to be the President.

Before digging into this question, I was aware of such concepts as sovereign immunity, so I sought out a treatise on the subject. I found Rotunda and Nowak’s Treatise on Constitutional Law-Substance and Procedure on Westlaw, which as a Thomson publication seemed authoritative enough. §7.3(b) deals with “Absolute Versus Qualified Immunity from Civil Damage Claims.”

“The President should have absolute immunity from damage actions for his official actions so that the threat of personal liability does not affect his official judgment”

§ 7.3(b) Presidential Civil Damages Immunity, 1 Treatise on Const. L. § 7.3(b)

Emphasis theirs. So I see this question splits into two parts: suing the President for official acts, and for unofficial acts.

Suing the President for official acts

To sue the President for his official acts, which if I had to hazard a guess would be the aim for most of our inquiring patrons, is a bit of a dead end. Rotunda & Nowak go on to say that the Court grants “absolute immunity from civil damages because of his official actions.” Evidently injunctions and subpoenas are still on the table, but damages are not.

I had pulled up an American Jurisprudence explainer on the Federal Tort Claims Act, thinking it would dovetail nicely into the “official” side of things, but FTCA §1346(b) specifically requires monetary damages. So that’s out.

With only injunctions and subpoenas on the table, the official side starts to become less interesting. I wanted a L&O-style cross-examination, with The President floundering under Jack McCoy’s dogged questioning!

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 deals with injunctions, and the Federal Judiciary website has pro se injunction paperwork. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are bursting at the seams with rules about discovery & subpoena, so if the reference interview was going that way, I would pull out Wright & Miller Federal Practice and Procedure to offer Rules Practice resources.

Suing the President for unofficial acts

This side, which is by nature apolitical, is also less interesting. From here, because we’re suing the President for unofficial acts, it’ll follow standard channels for jurisdiction.

If you’re suing for damages pertaining to federal law and/or you’re asking for at least $75,000 in damages, it’ll land in Federal Court. The reference interview ends with that hyperlinked Pro Se guide for United States District Court, Western District of Washington. It includes links to forms and explains overall procedures.

Alternatively, if thresholds such as Washington’s “long arm” statute are met, the case could land in state court. For that, I recommend using KCLL’s Starting a Civil Lawsuit in Superior Court form packet! Sunglasses emoji!


I recommend coming in to either KCLL location to access not only the resources mentioned here, but also the existing case law on suing the president, via Westlaw (did you know that KCLL has three Westlaw terminals in the Seattle location, and two in Kent?). There have been relatively few lawsuits against Presidents, so it is worthwhile to note the channels used previously.

Best of luck!