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2016 Proposed Local Rule Changes

The Pierce County Superior Court Local Rules Committee hereby submits its proposed rule changes to take effect September 1, 2016. We are soliciting input and comment from the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association. We request all comments to be submitted by not later than May 9, 2016. Comments may be submitted by email to Judge Elizabeth Martin: . Click HERE to view/download a summary and a copy of the proposed rule changes.

Change in Administration Hours

All Pierce County Superior Court offices will be closed during the noon hour 12:00pm-1:00pm starting on February 1st, 2016. 

Pierce County Minority Bar Association Youth and Law Forum

The Pierce County Minority Bar Association PCMBA will hold its annual Youth and Law Forum on Friday January 15th from 10-1:00 in Room 100 of the County City Building.  Over 100 students are expected to attend from several middle schools in Tacoma.  The program is designed to allow young students to learn about their rights as well as providing information on how the justice system works.  It is also an opportunity for youth to meet law enforcement officers, defense attorney’s prosecutors and judicial officers and learn more about their careers. 


The attorneys have worked really hard to make this event a success.  The day begins with a mock trial beginning at 10 AM in Room 100 and ends with lunch in Jury Administration at 1:00 PM.  Thanks to all Superior Court Staff who have helped on this events. 


For more information contact:  Sabrina Ahrens or Alex Kirigin
Link to PCMBA website:  

New Public Request forms for Superior Court and Juvenile Court Administrative Records pursuant to GR 31.1

Effective January 4, 2016, the Pierce County Superior Court has adopted a new policy/procedure for requesting administrative records in accordance withWashington State General Rule 31.1.  The forms for request of records and instructions are available HERE.

Changes to Jury Duty

Jury duty has been shortened to one week or until dismissed by the court. 
Your term of jury service is generally one week. This time may be extended if you are selected for a trial which may take longer than your original service requirement. 

What does “or until dismissed by the court” mean? 
Once you are assigned to a jury panel, you will stay on that case until the court releases you from your commitment. 

Superior Court Administrator Andra Motyka, will retire Friday, Nov. 20, after serving the Court for 20 plus years.

Andra has been a valued employee leading the court through the technology revolution and through major court facility redesign. In 2007 Andra was nominated by the Pierce County Superior Court Judges for the NACM 2007 Award of Merit. Andra received the 2007 Award of Merit, the highest award presented to a court administrator by the National Association for Court Management. The entire Superior Court family wishes Andra well as she embarks on new endeavors. 

A national search for her replacement are underway and we expect it will take several months. In the interim, John Ladenburg, former Pierce County Executive and former Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, has agreed to serve as the Administrator of Superior Court.  John is an excellent administrator who understands the courts and Pierce County government. He has successfully assisted the Court previously as Interim Administrator of Pierce County Juvenile Court. John will assume the Interim Court Administrator position on Monday, Nov. 23.

Please join me in wishing Andra well and thanking her for her service. And also please join me in welcoming John Ladenburg as our interim Superior Court Administrator.

 -    Frank E. Cuthbertson, Presiding Judge of Superior Court

2015 Pierce County Local Rules (PCLR) 

2015 PCLR effective September 1st, 2015.  CLICK HERE to view and download the Adobe PDF version. 

Please note the following change:

(a) Statement of Arbitrability. In every civil case, the party filing the note for trial provided by CR 40(a)(1) and PCLR 40 shall, upon the form prescribed by the court, complete a statement of arbitrability; except that a party may file a statement of arbitrability requesting arbitration at any time after filing of the complaint, but no sooner than the date the confirmation of joinder is filed and no later than the discovery cutoff date. [emphasis added]  After the deadline has passed, the statement of arbitrability may be filed only by leave of the court for good cause shown. 

This local rule change requires that the Statement of Arbitrability be filed only on or after the deadline for filing the confirmation of joinder and before the discovery cutoff date, absent leave of court for good cause shown.


Governor Appoints Michael Schwartz to Pierce County Superior Court Department 3

Governor Inslee announced last night that he has appointed Michael Schwartz to the Pierce County Superior Court replacing Judge Tom Larkin who retires at the end of July.  Michael Schwartz has over twenty two years experience as a defense trial attorney.  He among a select group of attorneys who have been qualified to handle death penalty cases in Washington.  He has also served in the military and, prior to becoming an attorney, he was a commissioned police officer in Hawaii.  Michael Schwartz is active in the community coaching youth sports and he has served as President of the Robert Bryan Inns of Court.   He also currently co-chairs the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association’s Criminal Law Section.  Michael will be a great addition to the Superior Court.  He brings a unique perspective to the bench and is well respected by the lawyers and judges in Pierce County.  Please join Superior Court in welcoming our new Judge, Michael Schwartz.

Additional information is available in Governor Inslee’s press release on the governor’s web site.


Superior Court Judges, Commissioners, and Spouses help build local housing.
Habitat for Humanity

On June 6th several judges, commissioners and their spouses helped with the construction of two homes at a Habitat build site.  They will have another opportunity in September to make this meaningful impact in our community.


Judge Whitener will visit Trinidad to promote human rights and tolerance.
Judge Whitener

Judge Helen Whitener will visit Trinidad from June 14-17 as part of the U.S. Embassy’s celebration of June as National Caribbean-American Heritage and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride (LGBT) months. 

Judge Whitener was born in St. Augustine and migrated to the U.S.A. at age 16. She now sits on the Pierce County Superior Court, (the highest trial court in the State of Washington). She is the youngest woman of color to serve in such a position and is openly gay. Her visit is meant to promote human rights and tolerance. She will hold meetings with government officials, women’s groups and members of the LGBT community. Judge Whitener will also give a talk at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine on June 16 at 2:00 p.m. 

Judge Whitener gives much of her time to speaking on various access to justice matters and is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, Washington State Superior Court Judges Association, Equality and Fairness Committee, National Association of Women Judges and the International Association of Women Judges. 

She was featured in the local Express Women’s magazine in April. 

New Jury Scams

Judge warns of phony payment demands for missed jury duty.
View the full article here
Clark County is reporting a jury scam via telephone that requires the resident to pay a fine and then show up to court on a specific date for a refund.  We will never request money over the phone. 
View the full article

Kitsap County Jury Scam Advisory
For more details about Snohomish County
Juror Scams around the country

October 2015

Beginning September 1st, 2015, attorneys interested in applying to be on the 2016 Pro Tem Judge/Settlement Mediator panel can pick up applications in Superior Court Administration, Room 334. The application will also be available on the Superior Court Website; www.co.pierce.wa.us/superior/employment. Applications must be returned and date stamped to Superior Court Administration, Room 334, no later than 4:30 pm on October 30th, 2015.


Beginning August 1, 2015, attorneys interested in applying for the 2016 Superior Court Pro Tem Commissioner List can pick up applications in Superior Court Administration, Room 334 or Commissioners Services Department, Room 140 at the County-City Building or may obtain them from Superior Court website; www.co.pierce.wa.us/superior/employment Applications must be returned to Superior Court Administration, Room 334, no later than 4:30 P.M. September 30, 2015.

An applicant must have a minimum of five years experience in the State of Washington and may not serve as a pro tem commissioner if appointed or serving as a Guardian Ad Litem for compensation under Title 11, 13 or 26. 

May 2015

  Mental Health Month
On April 28, 2015 the Pierce County Council and Executive adopted Resolution No R2015-52 proclaiming May 2015 as “Mental Health Month” in Pierce County.  Superior Court began a Felony Mental Health Court earlier this year; the first hearing was held on February 25, 2015. The court is presided over by Judge Edmund Murphy on Wednesday afternoons.  At the end of April the court had received 68 referrals.  By mid-May there were 15 participants in the program, with more scheduled to enter during the month.


On May 5, 201jury resolution5, the Pierce County Council, Executive and Courts jointly adopted Resolution No. R2015-45, which proclaims the week of May 18-22, 2015 to be “Juror Appreciation Week” in Pierce County.   The Jury Administration Office, which serves Pierce County Superior, Pierce County District  and Tacoma Municipal Court, will be providing snacks to the jurors to recognize the service of Pierce County residents who serve on jury duty.  Judges from all three courts, the County Executive and members of the County Council will appear during the week to praise and honor the importance of their service.   In 2014, 80,310 county citizens were summoned for jury duty and 11,584 served as jurors in the courts.




Pierce County Superior Court to host national jury management seminar
jury conf 2015.JPG

Jury administrators from around the nation are coming to Pierce County this month for a three-day advanced training seminar.

The Virginia-based National Center for State Courts selected Pierce County’s Jury Administration Office as the host after working together on a technical assistance study. The study was complimentary of Pierce County Jury Administration operations, and also identified areas for improvement and efficiency.

“This is the first time the National Center for State Courts has held this training in Washington State and we are pleased to have been chosen to host it,” said Pierce County Superior Court Presiding Judge Frank Cuthbertson. “This will be an outstanding opportunity for the staff of our Jury Administration Office to join their counterparts from across the nation, take our jury operations to the next level and become even better at what they do.”

The seminar, to be held March 25-27, is entitled “Fair and Effective Practices in Jury Management.” It will be conducted by Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts.

The training is limited to 40 participants and the registration list includes jury managers from all over the United States, including the U.S. Territorial Court in Guam. The Pierce County Jury Administration Office has 4 participants registered for the training.

Jury operations will be temporarily relocated to Courtroom 100 on the first floor of the County-City Building to accommodate the training seminar.

Congratulations to Judge Frank Cuthbertson and
Judge Stephanie Arend

The Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association honored Judge Cuthbertson with its 2014 Service To Diversity Award which Recognizes all aspects of diversity; optical, background, perspective, and racial.  Scott Candoo concluded in his Pierce County Lawyer magazine article: “His demeanor and humanity as well as diversity of background and perspectives provides the legal system and community of Pierce County a tremendous windfall”.

The Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association honored Judge Arend with its 2014 Outstanding Jurist Award Recipient for Her work with the YMCA Mock Trial program, Paint Tacoma Beautiful program, Judicial College, and the Pierce County Superior Court History Project.  In the Pierce County Lawyer magazine article, Paula Olson summed it up with these words:  “Judge Arend is very worthy of this Distinguished Service Award and we should all take an opportunity to congratulate and thank her for her hard work and commitment to improve our community”


Juror e-mail Scam


Residents of Pierce County have been contacted by e-mail about Notice to appear in court. The e-mail states the person is due in court March 12. There is a zip file attached to the e-mail.
Do not open it. It could be harmful to your device. 

These are fake, if you are solicited in this way, don't give these contacts any information.

Swearing in Ceremony for Judge Gretchen Leanderson
South Korean Delegates visit Pierce County Drug Court
On May 6th 2014 Pierce County Drug Court was visited by 20 Korean Delegates.  Our Drug Court will be serving as a model for the Korean government to learn more about how our court system helps non-violent offenders with drug addictions by offering a therapeutic drug treatment program.   For a video or the full story.

G. Helen Whitener appointed to Pierce County Superior Court
Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he is appointing G. Helen Whitener to Pierce County Superior Court. Whitener is replacing Judge John McCarthy who is retiring after serving 18 years on the bench.

Whitener, who is originally from Trinidad and moved to the United States while in her teens to attend college, currently serves as an appeals judge for the Washington State Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. She presides over appeals of decisions made by the Department of Labor and Industries Administrative Law Judges. She ran her own private firm in Lakewood and Tacoma from 2005-2013 where she practiced criminal defense as well as civil contracts and small business issues. She has served as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Pierce County and Island County as well as a defense attorney for the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel.

Whitener is currently a member of the Pierce County Minority Bar Association and Tacoma Black Collective. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration from City University in New York and earned her Juris Doctor at the Seattle University School of Law in Tacoma.

“Helen has dedicated her career to serving the people of Pierce County and is highly regarded for her expertise and dedication to her work,” Inslee said. “Her tremendous work as a judicial officer, prosecutor, and defense attorney will make her an exceptional addition to the bench.” New Tribune article...

The public swearing in ceremony for Appointee Judge Gretchen Leanderson was held Thursday, December 4, 2014, at 4:00 p.m. in Judge LeandersonRoom 100 of the County City Building.  A reception was held in Room 123 (Jury Administration).   The ceremony was open to the public.

Judge Thomas Felnagle retires
Thomas Felnagle is retiring after serving as a Superior Court judge for almost 23 years.  During his career, he has served as Presiding judge  for Superior Court, as presiding judge at our juvenile court, has been a member of the statewide Sentencing Guidelines Commission and has served the Court and the Superior Court Judges Association on many committees and commissions.  Judge FelnagleAs one our most senior judges, he has been a constant source of advice and acted as a mentor to many more recent additions to our bench.  We are honoring him with a retirement dinner November 7th at the Tacoma Yacht Club.

Tom and his wife Debbie reside in Tacoma.  They have two adult children.  Tom indicates that his plans for retirement include a bit of golf, continuing in many volunteer activities, and perhaps acting as a mentor for newer attorneys and occasionally sitting as a judge pro tempore.

Judge Felnagle is one of the judges most respected by his colleagues.  We wish him well and will miss him.

Superior Court Employee Recognition Banquet Doorprize Committee
Employee baquet door prize 2014 450.jpg
Superior Court provides a gift basket to be used as a door prize at the Pierce County Employee Recognition Banquet. The theme for this year's basket is "Ride the Rails", all items in the basket and the "basket" itself are related to trains. Members of the committee are pictured above from left to right: Judge Hogan, Judge Arend, Commissioner Foley, Judge Culpepper, Dan Vessels, Connie Mangus, and Judge Martin.

Students visit Drug Court
On the afternoon of May 20, a group of 20 students and 2 instructors from the Alternative High School in Orting observed the Pierce County Felony Drug Court in action.  The docket included Admissions into Drug Court, Terminations & Review Hearings including unsatisfactory reports with sanctions.

South Korean Officials Visit Drug Court

On May 6th 2014 Pierce County Drug Court was visited by 20 Korean Delegates.  Our Drug Court will be serving as a model for the Korean government to learn more about how our court system helps non-violent offenders with drug addictions by offering a therapeutic drug treatment program.   For the full story.

 Korean Visit to Drug Court

Proposed Local Rules

 By Judge Garold E. Johnson, Chair
Pierce County Superior Court Local Rules Committee

 The Pierce County Superior Court Local Rules Committee is hereby submitting its proposed local rules amendments for review and comment by members of the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association.  The proposed Local Rules amendments will be available for a 45-day comment period on the Pierce County Superior Court website beginning March 31, 2014 through May 15, 2014.   The rules are also available on the TPCBA website at www.tpcba.com for the same time period.    Any comments, suggestions or questions regarding the proposed local rules amendments are most welcome and should be submitted by email to or by phone to Judge Johnson at 253-798-7572.  In the alternative, you may contact the TPCBA bar representative, Charles Johnston, at 253-473-3090.  All comments regarding this year’s proposed amendments must be received by not later than May 15, 2014.

Following the 45-day comment period, the Local Rules Committee will evaluate all comments, make final rule changes and submit proposed local rules amendments to the full Bench for approval in June.  Final authority for all rules changes is by vote of the Pierce County Superior Court judges.   Approved local rule changes will then be submitted for publication by the Administrative Office of the Courts to take effect September 1, 2014.


By Judge Garold E. Johnson, Chair
Pierce County Superior Court Local Rules Committee

The Pierce County Superior Court Local Rules Committee is publishing the following three additional rule changes for comment. 

These additional proposed changes are to PCLR 0.3 to add transfer of structured settlement payment rights to commissioners’ subject matter; to PCLR 3(a)(14)(A) deleting the language “Type 2 (civil)” after Miscellaneous which will allow all miscellaneous cases to be given a mandatory review hearing four months after filing; and to PCLR 40(e)(1) which is an administrative change to the court rules that is intended only to make the rule consistent with the actual in court practices. To a great extent these additional rule amendments are self explanatory and are more ministerial than the proposed substantive changes that were recently published for comment.

As always any comments, suggestions or questions regarding the proposed local rules amendments are most welcome and should be submitted by email to or by phone to Judge Johnson at 253-798-7572.  In the alternative, you may contact the TPCBA bar representative, Charles Johnston, at 253-473-3090.  Again, all comments regarding this year’s proposed amendments must be received by not later than May 15, 2014.


New Judge sworn for Department 19

Philip K. Sorensen was sworn in as Pierce County Superior Court Judge for Department 19 on April 4, 2014. Judge Sorensen was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to fill a post left open by the appointment of Judge Linda CJ Lee to the Appeals Court. Judge Sorensen has worked for the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorneys Office since 1989. Judge Sorensen's bio...

Judge Sorensen swearing in 1.JPG

Gateways for Youth closed its Impact on Children Seminar
Gateways for Youth closed its Impact on Children Seminar effective October 31, 2013.  They will no longer offer the class and do not intend to offer it in the future.  Gateways will refer potential class attendees to other providers.  If you planned to take a class through Gateways you must now find another provider.

Pro Bono Settlement Conference Program
 Superior Court thanks the volunteer Pro Bono Officers for their dedication and participation in the 2013 Pro Bono Settlement Conference Program.
The 2013 Pro Bono Settlement Conference Program accepted 279 cases into the program in 2013.  Of these cases, 214 settlement conferences were held, with a 53% settlement rate.
It is unlikely with current budget issues that we will be able to fund a Pro Tem Judge Program in the near future.  Thus, their continued service to the Court and those they serve is of vital importance.
Superior Court intends to continue the success of the Pro Bono Settlement Conference Program in 2014. 

Thanks to all the 2013 Pro Bono officers for their effort and willingness to generously volunteer their time to help Superior Court and the citizens of Pierce County.
As always, attorneys interested in becoming a volunteer, please contact the Pro Bono Settlement Conference Coordinator Matthew Gray at phone number 253-798-3605, or the Chair of the Pro Tem Judge Program, Judge John Hickman at phone number 253-798-6779.

Superior Court Hosts Visiting Korean Judges

In March 2013 Pierce County Superior Court had the pleasure of hosting two visiting judges from the Republic of Korea. Judge Cha Jee Won of the Incheon District Court and her husband Kim Yong Tae of the Seoul Administrative Court are both studying the legal system of the United States at the University of Washington. They spent parts of 2 days visiting and observing our court. Judge Cha, whose jurisdiction includes a good deal of criminal law, was especially interested the prosecution of sex offenders and in the plea negotiation process. Korean visit for web page1.JPG

The judges were hosted by Presiding Judge Ron Culpepper and Judge Linda Lee and were able to visit with Judges Stan Rumbaugh and Frank Cuthbertson, members of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office Steve Merrival and Jared Ausserer, and representatives from the Department of Assigned Counsel. They also met a number of local attorneys at a lunch, including members of the Korean American Bar Association and the Pierce County Minority Bar Association.

Although the judges felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information they received over the 2 days, both Judge Cha and Judge Kim were very appreciative and thanked the court for the time spent during their visit.

Superior Court Judges Receive Awards
Congratulations to Pierce County Superior Court Judge Thomas Felnagle, Judge Vicki Hogan, Judge Thomas Larkin and Judge John McCarthy who all received awards for 20 years service on the bench from the Washington State Association for Justice. Their awards were presented at a reception March 18th 2013 at the Pacific Grill Events Center.

50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright
On March 18th, 1963 the US Supreme Court released its unanimous decision in the case of Gideon versus Wainwright.  The court held that the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteed everyone charged with a felony the right to be assisted by an attorney.  It further held that if the accused could not afford an attorney, the State must provide one.  The decision is one of the foundations of the modern public defender system.    There was some criticism of the decision at the time, that it was the work of an “activist” court, but Gideon v. Wainwright has come to be accepted by all who believe that rich and poor are entitled to have their Constitutional rights protected. 

The case was the subject of an excellent book by New Your Times columnist Anthony Lewis, Gideon’s Trumpet.  It was made into a good movie with Henry Fonda portraying Clarence Earl Gideon.


At their November meeting, the Superior Court Judges approved a change in policy and eventual rule change exempting Non-Parental Custody cases from the mandatory settlement conference requirement of PCLR 16 (b). This change will take effect January 1, 2013, although the actual language of the rule will not be changed until September 1, 2013.

If you already have a judicial settlement conference set in a Non-Parental Custody matter, that settlement conference remains as scheduled. For all new matters filed after January 1, 2013, the Case Scheduling Order will reflect the elimination of the settlement conference requirement. For pending Non-Parental Custody cases, as of January 1, 2013, the trial judge will no longer schedule a non-compliance hearing for failing to set a settlement conference.

Although settlement conferences/ADR will no longer be mandatory in Non-Parental Custody cases, any party still desiring some form of ADR, whether it be judicial settlement conference or mediation, may request such by motion to the assigned trial judge or if agreed, by stipulation.

Family Court Presiding Judges Bar News Announcement

Superior Court Home Page

Judge Frederick Fleming, In Memorium
Judge Frederick Fleming, In Memorium

7 Fred Fleming.JPG

On Friday March 13, Pierce County Superior Court lost an esteemed judge and good friend, the Honorable Frederick W. Fleming.   Judge Fleming retired two years ago after serving  21 years on the Superior Court .  His tenure began in 1992 when he was elected to the position vacated by Judge E. Albert Morrison.  Prior to assuming the bench Judge Fleming served as a Pierce County Prosecutor and subsequently was in private practice.