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!
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:
- I wish I hadn’t submitted this motion – CTRL +Z.
- 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!