So, there shouldn’t be one anywhere else.
If you’re looking for public documents from the Thurston County Clerk (or from practically any other county clerk in Washington State) you need to pay exorbitant fees. Like almost $30 for downloading a 16 page document from a public database.
But, not in Whatcom County. The Whatcom County superior court maintains a public database that offers direct access to court filings with no charge. As it should be.
Once you plug in a case number you’re interested in, you are given direct access to the entire court record.
This system was in place before my time, but I fully support it. We feel
it saves on both staff time and foot traffic into the court house to
obtain documents. We wouldn’t charge for someone to come into the office
to look at a file. If they chose to make copies, there would be a cost
and staff time. I believe it actually saves money by freeing up staff
time to do more important tasks. We have had significant reductions in
force over the past several years. Further, it provides equal access
regardless of financial resources.
We are a nation of laws. Our law is created not only via legislation,
but also through the adjudicative process of the courts. Whereas we
generally have open and free access to the statutes that bind us, case
law has had a more mixed history. Earlier experiments in secret proceedings did not go well. Western law subsequently developed strong precedents
for access to judicial proceedings — citing the importance of
transparency in promoting court legitimacy, accountability, fairness,
and democratic due process. When the law is accessible, “ignorance of
the law is no excuse.”
The public interest is not served when only those who can afford it can have access to what goes on in our courts.