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Guide to the Archives of the City of Seattle

Record Group 5600
Municipal Court

The first judicial officer for Seattle was appointed by the City Council in 1875 from among the King County Justices of the Peace serving the Seattle Precinct. In 1886, a charter amendment made each Seattle Precinct Justice a Police Justice with jurisdiction over ordinance violations. The 1890 Freeholders Charter officially established a Police Court in the city. This provision was repealed in 1892, after an 1891 state law created a Municipal Court system that included a Justice Court and Police Court. The Police Court was a “court of limited jurisdiction” under the purview of the city of Seattle. (In contrast, the county was the parent agency for the Justice Court.) One of the justices of the peace in the Seattle Precinct was appointed to serve on the Police Court in addition to his duties on the Justice Court. The Police Court heard violations of state law that occurred within the city limits, as well as violations of City ordinances. It dealt with misdemeanors, traffic offenses, minor civil suits, and small claims, and also heard liquor-related cases during Prohibition.

The Police Court was called by varying names over the years. Before 1891, it seems to generally have been known as the Police Court. From 1891 to 1897, it was called the Municipal Court, and then again was referred to as the Police Court until 1928, when it was once again called the Municipal Court. It retained that name from then on, except for 1954-1955, when it was called the Municipal Police Court. The currently constituted Municipal Court was created in 1955 under Chapter 290 of the Washington State Laws. It has exclusive original jurisdiction over violations of all city ordinances, collects fines and forfeitures relating thereto, and hears cases related to misdemeanor defined by State statute that occur within the City limits. Municipal judges are elected by the qualified electors of the City of Seattle.

The Justice Court, also created by the 1891 state law, was a “court of limited jurisdiction” under the purview of King County. The justices of the peace on the bench of the Justice Court dealt with misdemeanors, traffic offenses, minor civil suits, and small claims, and also heard liquor-related cases during Prohibition. More serious cases were referred to the county’s Superior Court. In 1961, the Washington State Justice Court Act combined the Justice Court and the District Court into one entity, a change that was adopted by King County in 1962.


5601-01
Police Court Dockets

1886-1956
222 volumes

Summary of cases heard in Police Court involving violations of Seattle’s criminal codes. Each case includes a docket number, date, defendant’s name, offense, plea, costs, and disposition of the case. By the 1910s, witnesses, complainants, and bail were often also included. The earliest cases include a narrative account of the progression of the case, but in 1889 the courts started using forms for easier entry of information. Some of the most common offenses listed in the early volumes are drunkenness, vagrancy, and disorderly conduct, with prostitution and fighting also making frequent appearances. Traffic violations appear on a large scale beginning in the 1920s. Some of the more unusual offenses include driving across a fire hose, using profane language, and “riding a horse in a public street at a fast rate of six miles an hour.”

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5601-02
General Indexes

1891-1956
28 volumes

Indexes to the Police Court Dockets (5601-01) list the defendant’s name, the volume or docket number in which the case appears, and the page number of the volume. (The first volume lists only the defendant’s name and case number.) Each volume indexes between 3 and 21 dockets; within each index volume defendants are organized by first letter of their last name and then listed in order of their case number.

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5601-03
Minute Books

1894-1911
15 volumes

This series contains summary information of cases heard in Police Court and corresponds to the Police Court Dockets (5601-01). It was probably used to compute the final costs related to the cases. Includes date, case number corresponding to Police Court Docket case number, name of defendant, offense, names of attorneys, names of witnesses, plea, and judgment. Cases that were continued for two or more days have listings for each day they came before the judge. This record was compiled by the clerk of the court.

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5601-04
Police Judge's Journal

1897-1920
19 volumes

This is a log of cases heard in Police Court and corresponds to the Police Court Dockets (5601-01). It includes summary information: date, name of defendant, offense, bail, plea, names of prosecution witnesses, and judgment. Beginning with Volume 5, the entries include a “sheet number” which corresponds to the “blotter number” in the Police Court Dockets. The Police Judge’s Journal does not include case numbers as found in the Dockets. This series appears to be a daily record maintained by the Judge during the course of hearings and trials. Cases that were continued for two or more days have listings for each day they came before the judge.

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5602-01
Docket Record of Liquor Cases

1917-1926
10 volumes

Separate Police Court docket summarizing cases related to illegal possession of alcohol prosecuted under municipal and state prohibition laws. Volumes contain information on both court cases and search warrants. Case information includes case number, blotter number, defendant name and address, defense attorney, bail, date and details of complaint, plea, and judgment. Search warrant information includes date issued, date returned, officer’s name, and items seized. Requests for search warrants seem to have decreased in the later years of this series.

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5602-02
Liquor Docket Index

1917-1926
1 volume

This index to the Docket Record of Liquor Cases (5602-01) lists cases related to illegal possession of alcohol by defendant name. Each entry includes the name and date, as well as the volume and page number where the case may be found in the Docket Record. Defendants are organized by first letter of their last name and then listed in order of their case number. Defendant names include both personal names and buildings (apartments, hotels, addresses). There are a large number of entries for the baggage rooms at King Street Station and Oregon and Washington Station (now known as Union Station).

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5603-01
Criminal Dockets

1905-1959
50 volumes

The justices of the peace on the bench of the Justice Court dealt with misdemeanors, traffic offenses, minor civil suits, and small claims, and also heard liquor-related cases during Prohibition. More serious cases were referred to the county’s Superior Court. In 1961, the Washington State Justice Court Act combined the Justice Court and the District Court into one entity, a change that was adopted by King County in 1962. This series is a record of criminal cases heard in Justice Court, with some volumes also containing records of search warrants granted by the judge. Case information includes name of defendant, complainant, offense, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, court costs, bail set, bond paid, fines, and disposition of the case. Each record also contains an account of the progression of the case, with dates of filings, subpoenas, hearings, and trials. Cases involve violation of Washington State criminal statutes, and most commonly include vagrancy, drunkenness, and automobile-related offenses such as speeding or reckless driving. Some of the more unusual offenses include employing a female for more than eight hours, caravanning cars without a permit, Sabbath breaking, and fishing with tackle not held in the hand. Volume 50 appears to have been used for both Justice Court and Municipal Court proceedings, as cases are stamped “Municipal Court of Seattle” beginning with case 29646 (dated July 8, 1958). Cases 1-308 in this volume are marked "Municipal Court of Seattle Department No. 1.”

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5603-02
Justice of the Peace Calendars

1905-1923
19 volumes

Schedule of civil and criminal cases heard in Justice Court by Justice John B. Gordon. Includes case number, parties to the case, attorneys, time, and “court minutes” (offense, continuances, judgment). Case numbers do not correspond to the case numbers in the Criminal Dockets. Gordon was born October 20, 1864, on a farm near Jacksonville, Illinois. He never attended law school, but studied the law at home and through his work in legal offices. After attending business college in Jacksonville, he began clerking in his brother-in-law’s law office in Aurora, Nebraska. He moved to Seattle in 1889, where he worked as a Superior Court clerk before being appointed to the bench. He served as a justice of the peace for 29 years. Well known for encouraging many defendants to turn away from criminality and self-destructive behavior, the Seattle Times called him a “firm handed humanitarian” and praised his fairness and kind demeanor. A headline on his Times obituary read, “Kindly Smile is Gone.” Gordon was married to Maude Gillham and had two daughters. He collapsed and died in his chambers in September 1933 after hearing cases in Police Court.

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Volume List


5603-03
Justice of the Peace Dockets

1891-1900
5 volumes

Summary of civil and criminal cases heard in Justice Court. Includes case number, date, names of parties to the case, offense, fees, and judgment. Each record also contains an account of the progression of the case, with dates of filings, subpoenas, hearings, and trials. Case numbers do not correspond to case numbers in the Criminal Dockets. Volume 15 contains cases in 1892 and 1893, and then was later used by a different judge for unnumbered cases from 1899 to 1900. The majority of civil cases relate to debts, while the most common criminal offenses are grand larceny, petit larceny, assault and battery, and burglary. Some of the more unusual offenses include smoking opium, refusing to pay poll tax, seduction, disposing of liquor on election day, and using words with the intent to provoke a breach of the peace.

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5603-04
Justice Court Journal

1901
1 volume

Court journal of Justice Robert R. George containing a log of civil and criminal cases heard by him in early 1901. It includes summary information: names of the plaintiff and defendant, names of attorneys, charged offense, plea, bail, name of witness(es), and judgment, but does not include case numbers. This series appears to be a record maintained by the judge during the course of hearings and trials. George was born in 1862 in Columbus, Ohio, and was admitted to the bar in that state in 1890. In 1891 he came to Seattle, where he worked as an attorney until Mayor Thomas J. Humes appointed him Justice of the Peace in 1901. He served in this capacity for twelve years; for the first four years he had a dual appointment on the Justice Court and Police Court. His wife Amy was the daughter of Seattle pioneer Jesse George. He was active in the Boylston Avenue Unitarian Church and was president of the King County Humane Society. George died on September 11, 1913, of injuries sustained in an elevator accident.

SMA


5604-01
Liquor Search Dockets

1923-1944
8 volumes

Record of warrants issued by Justice Court to search for illegally possessed alcohol. Includes address of search, date, officer’s name, and description of seized liquor and equipment (if any). Volume 8 (Liquor Search Docket) and Volume 2 (Liquor Search Warrant Docket) also contain names of individuals who were targets of searches. Seized liquor varied from amounts as small as half a pint to thousands of bottles. Officers also seized stills, mash, funnels, and jugs. Liquor Search Dockets from 1938 to 1942 are held by the King County Archives. In addition, the Puget Sound Branch of the Washington State Archives holds one Liquor Search Docket dated 1924-1926 and one journal listing liquor search warrants dated 1923-1925.

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5605-01
Justice Court Dockets, Columbia City

1892-1899
4 volumes

These dockets contain summaries of cases heard in Justice Court for the City of Columbia Precinct. Most are civil cases, although Volume 4 also includes some criminal cases. The majority of civil cases relate to debts or personal property, while criminal cases include offenses such as larceny, assault and battery, threatened assault, and display of a deadly weapon. There is also a series of requests for search warrants, apparently part of an effort to crack down on gambling. Volume 1 contains numerous pasted-in Transcripts of Judgments, all relating to cases brought by the State Insurance Co. against individuals for money owed. Case information includes names of parties to the case, names of attorneys, costs, lists of filings, and disposition of the case. Because of the type of book used, these details are less clearly delineated in Volume 1 than in the later volumes. Volume 4 and (to a lesser extent) Volume 2 have names indexed at the front. The cases represented in this collection all took place before Columbia was annexed and therefore were not under the purview of the Seattle Municipal Court system.

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