Subject to certain exceptions, Washington State Bar Association records are available to the public. Many records are available on our website, and others are available upon request. The rule governing public access to Bar records is General Rule (GR) 12.4. The information on this page is meant to describe generally how to make a request for public Bar records, but for more specific information, you should refer to the rule itself.
Please note that the Washington state Public Records Act, RCW 42.56, does not apply to Bar records (other than the exemptions to disclosure contained in the Public Records Act, which also exempt Bar records from disclosure). While there are similarities between GR 12.4 and the Public Records Act, there are differences as well.
Things to Consider Before Making a Request
Other sources of information
Many records and information about WSBA functions are available on our website, so please check there first before making a request. For example, the following commonly requested items are available online:
- Legal Directory: Search individual members of the Bar by name to find status contact and other information.
- Bar member disciplinary notices
- WSBA Board of Governors materials, Bylaws, and financial information
- Information about the Bar's disciplinary system
Our website also has a search box that may pull up the records you want by typing in key words, as well as a calendar of events containing information about Bar-related activities.
We cannot keep your request for public Bar records confidential. Your request is itself a public Bar record and can be requested by others. We will forward your request to the department(s) within WSBA that hold or may hold the records responsive to your request. We may also notify third parties who have an interest in the records you have requested.
There are fees associated with making public records requests. WSBA charges the following fees to cover its expenses:
- Hard copies: 15 cents per page
- Scanned documents: 15 cents per page
- Compact discs: 36 cents each
- Mailing costs: 25 cents per envelope, plus First Class U.S. Postage
- Research: $30 per hour for research services required to fulfill a request taking longer than one hour (fee assessed starting with the second hour)
WSBA may require a deposit or full payment before the records are provided. There is no charge for viewing Bar records at WSBA’s offices rather than having us send them to you (although you will be charged for any copies requested of documents you view, and for staff time expended in identifying and gathering responsive records, per the fee schedule above).
Not all WSBA records are subject to public disclosure. For example, confidential disciplinary information (which includes records about pending or dismissed grievances against lawyers, but not records made public when a grievance has been ordered to a public hearing or the lawyer has received an admonition) is not subject to disclosure in response to a public records request. A list of specific exemptions from disclosure can be found in GR 12.4. Other exemptions are found in state law, federal law, and case law.
Existing records only
While WSBA will provide you with access to existing public records in its possession in response to a request (unless those records are exempt), please note that WSBA is not required to collect information or organize data to create a record not existing at the time of the request.
How to Request Public Bar Records
To request public Bar records, you should make your request in writing on the request form, or by letter or email addressed to the Bar’s public records officer:
Nicole Gustine, public records officer
Washington State Bar Association
1325 Fourth Ave., Suite 600
Seattle, Washington 98101
If you are unable to make your request in writing, please contact the PRO by phone for assistance.
Your written request must include the following information:
- Contact information – your name, mailing address, and telephone number or email address.
- A description of the specific records being requested. The request must be specific enough for us to identify what you are asking for and whether we have records meeting that description.
- Whether you would like us to send copies of the records to you or if you would rather come to our office to review them (see fee schedule above).
What to Expect in Response to a Request for Public Bar Records
Within 14 days, we will notify you that we received your request. If your request is very broad or if it is unclear, the public records officer may ask you to clarify what you are requesting.
The officer will collect and review records that are responsive to your request, and may redact (remove) entire records or parts of records that are exempt from disclosure. The officer may also notify third parties who have an interest in the records that you have made a public records request.
Once the officer completes the review and the records are ready to be released, we will contact you. Depending on the number of requests received before yours and the size and complexity of your request, a response may take anywhere from a few days to 30 days. Occasionally, it will take longer than 30 days to collect and review all of the records. In these cases, the officer will contact you to provide an estimated response time, and will try to work with you on narrowing your request or setting up an installment schedule for the response.
You will receive the responsive records (if any exist), or notification that the records are ready for you to view. You will also receive a written explanation for any records that have been redacted or withheld under an exemption.
Your Options if a Request is Denied
If you object to a decision by the public records officer, such as a decision to deny your request or withhold certain documents under an exemption, you may request review of that decision by WSBA Executive Director Paula Littlewood. To request review by the executive director, you must fill out the Request for Review of Public Bar Records Decisions form and submit it to WSBA within 90 days of the public records officer’s decision. Your request will be considered timely if it is either postmarked within 90 days of the officer’s decision (if submitted by mail), or received by WSBA within 90 days of the officer’s decision (if submitted by email or hand delivery). The form contains further instructions on how to submit the request for review. For more information about the procedures for seeking review of a records decision, including the steps for secondary review by the Records Request Appeals Officer, please see GR 12.4(h).
The Washington Supreme Court established procedures for review of WSBA records request appeals officer decisions pursuant to General Rule 12.4(h)(2)(c) through Order No. 25700-B-573 dated Feb. 16, 2017. You may also find the order on the Court's website.