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How does a Washington court decide whether to seal my court records?

How does a court decide whether to seal a court record?

To decide whether to grant your motion to seal, the judge will consider the so-called Ishigawa factors.  This test comes from a Washington Supreme Court case that analyzed in detail how trial court judges should decide motion to seal court records.  The five Ishigawa factors are:

  • There has to be a serious and imminent threat to an important interest (i.e. job or housing)
  • Anyone present in court must be given chance to object to your motion to seal
  • Sealing your court record must be the only viable way to protect the important interest
  • Your need to seal outweighs the public's interest right to view and access your file
  • The period of time for which sealing will be in effect must be specified (i.e. permanent or for a set period of time)

If the court denies my motion to seal, can I appeal?

You can appeal a denial of your motion to the next highest court (i.e. the Court of Appeals if the Superior Court denies your motion). 

The standard on appeal is “abuse of discretion.”  That means the appeals court will only reverse the trial judge if the judge had no legal basis to deny your motion.  This is a high burden because the standard isn't whether the judge made the best decision—only whether the decision had some legal basis.

Can my sealed record be unsealed?

Yes, but only if the court finds “compelling circumstances” under GR 15 to unseal your court record.

If the government files a motion to unseal your record, you have to be notified and be given a chance to appear in court to object to the motion. 

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