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Prohibited ex parte communications

Posted by attorney Michael Morgan
Filed under: Civil rights

The King County Superior Court website has a link regarding email communications, That link explains what constitutes, in the court's mind, what is permissible and impermissible ex parte email communications with the court.. The rules regarding ex parte communications are an outgrowth of the due process clauses of our state and federal constitutions (U.S. Const. amend XIV; WA Const art. 1, sec. 3) that guarantee impartial tribunals. In Washington state, an early case determined that when a trial judge engaged in ex parte communications with the jury during deliberations the communication was presumed to be prejudicial. State v. Waile, 135 Wash. 667 (1925). Later cases, however, ruled that while ex parte communications is error, it may be harmless if an appellate court can conclude that the error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Saraceno, 23 Wn. App. 473 (1979). The court in State v. Stafford 24 Wn. App. 783 (1979) held that an ex parte communication by a judge to a jury is not prejudicial if the statement is negative in nature and contains no affirmative information. Certain ex parte contacts (such as for some temporary restraiing orders or motions for expert services at public expense) are not prohibited and sometimes are necessary for the administration of justice.

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