Local court rule changes address remote appearances

The general community may not spend time thinking about San Juan County Superior Court, however, changes to local court rules do impact islanders should they end up in a legal situation. Recent modifications involve remote appearances via an online streaming platform.

“Every year the court has an opportunity to update local rules,” said Jane Severin, San Juan County Superior Court Administrator, explaining that Washington state produces state court rules. “Each state looks at those and supplements them in a way that works for them.”

San Juan County implements rules that make court easier for a smaller county, while Snohomish will implement rules that make it easier for a large county.This year a number of the changes add language addressing remote appearance.

For example, petitions for civil protection orders based on domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of vulnerable adults and antiharassment previously required parties to appear in person. Draft local rules now state that “hearings may occur remotely or in-person unless otherwise ordered by the Court. These matters are open to the public and the courtroom shall be open and available for all hearings. However, remote access to these hearings is limited to those involved in the case.”

The changes also now state that, when permitted, parties and attorneys may appear remotely by telephone or video through the Court’s Microsoft Teams platform for any proceeding other than a civil jury trial, for any non-evidentiary hearing unless otherwise ordered by the court. Parties may object to remote appearance or testimony, but to do so they make a written motion to establish good cause why remote appearance and testimony should not be allowed. That motion must be considered prior to the hearing or trial.

Changes have also been made to rules surrounding visiting judges from an outside county used when a county judge is not able to hear a case either due to the county judge recusing themselves, a party believing them to be impartial and a number of other reasons. San Juan County frequently uses Island, Whatcom and Skagit county when in need of a visiting judge. Local rule 77 pertains to visiting judges, and the new draft makes allowances for them to appear remotely.

Section three of LR 77 states, “The visiting judge may appear at hearings remotely via video at their option; provided, however, that the visiting judge shall appear in person in the San Juan County Superior Court Courtroom for: hearings where testimony is taken (other than civil protection order proceedings), sentencing in a criminal matter, and trial. The parties may request an in-person appearance of the visiting judge at other hearings, but such in-person attendance is not guaranteed.”

Section four gives room for the parties to appear in person before the visiting judge in their courtroom in their county: “The parties may agree to appear in person before the visiting judge in the visiting judge’s home county. However, pursuant to RCW 2.08.030, the court ‘session’ shall nonetheless be held in the San Juan County Superior Court Courtroom, where the Clerk shall keep the record and where the public may attend. In such a situation, the two Superior Courts will coordinate to ensure compliance…”

The process for updating court rules is lengthy. Throughout the year attorneys bring up the rules and suggest changes, according to Severin. Those comments are used to draft revisions, which are sent to the San Juan County Bar Association, and posted on the court’s website for both attorneys and the general public.

That draft is again revised in response to feedback, but on July 1, those new Local Rules are submitted to Washington State’s Administrative Office of the Court, Severin said. The above changes will take effect on Sept. 1.

Anyone wishing to view the draft may visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/1018/Court-Rules.