Superior Court records now available on Internet

EVERETT — Looking up Snohomish County Superior Court records no longer requires a trip through courthouse security or a wait for a computer terminal.

You now can access them online, around the clock, for a fee.

Snohomish County Clerk Sonya Kraski’s office finished rolling out the electronic records system in August.

“I think it will make the process more efficient for my office and for customers,” Kraski said.

Her office joins about a dozen Washington state county clerks who provide electronic access to Superior Court documents. The state maintains a separate system online, but it only provides indexes of cases and select dockets.

In Snohomish County, people have two ways to access the new court records system.

The first is aimed at infrequent and low-volume users. It’s routed through the Washington State Digital Archives, maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The fee is $1 per document, plus 25 cents per page. A four-page court order would cost $2.

People pay online with a credit card. No subscription is required.

Making copies in person, still an option, costs 25 cents per page. About 500 people use the clerk’s lobby daily.

The online system has been available since Aug. 20.

Certified copies cost extra.

During the first seven days of operation, the state logged about 180 online requests for Snohomish County court records, said June Timmons, chief applications architect at the Washington State Archives.

“Those are people who didn’t have to go into the courthouse or get in a car,” Timmons said. “They could sit at home, pay online with a credit card and have a secure link sent to them.”

A second option for accessing Snohomish County Superior Court records online is aimed at government agencies, lawyers and businesses that need a high volume of records. It provides unlimited access through a subscription.

A business pays $50 per month, or $600 per year. Adding an additional user within the organization costs $5 per month, or $60 annually. It’s free for government agencies and for organizations that provide access to justice for the poor and infirm.

Since July 1, nearly 200 people have signed up.

Snohomish County does not offer a draw-down account like King County, which lets customers pre-pay a lump sum.

The digital initiative is part of a electronic shift underway in the county for at least a decade.

The Clerk’s Office began phasing out microfilm in the early 2000s. It still maintains microfilm documents going back more than a century. All told, the county maintains about 9,400 reels.

Staff is working to convert all of the film to digital images, a several-year process.

“We want to look at expanding that to the public,” said Mark Allen, a case manager in Kraski’s office.

Kathleen Kyle, an assistant director for the Snohomish County Public Defenders Association, is grateful for the increased access. Kyle said in her line of work, seeing a defendant’s court records is comparable to a doctor seeing a patient’s medical history.

“It’s amazing how much better advice I can give if I know what’s going on,” she said.

Since defendants may have court history in other Washington counties, Kyle said she’d like to see the same service extended statewide.

The Secretary of State’s Office is working on that.

Snohomish County is the largest county, so far, providing access to Superior Court records through the state’s Digital Archives, according to electronic records archivist Debbie Bahn. Eleven other county clerks are working to join the system.

The eventual goal is to bring all 39 counties on board. That could take a while; Bahn said she first began discussions with Snohomish County four and a half years ago. The biggest obstacle has been getting different document software the counties have purchased from private vendors to mesh with the state system.

Beyond court documents, the state archives has digital records from 18 county auditors and various city records going back to the 1800s. All told, the State Digital Archives maintains nearly 50 million searchable records and counting.

More info: www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/Departments/Clerk or www.Digitalarchives.wa.gov.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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