October 2013 Bar Bulletin
 
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Law Library

Digital Archives: Fringe But Not Forgotten

By Rick Stroup
Assistant Library Director

 

Way out in Cheney, on the campus of Eastern Washington University, in the rolling wheat fields we 206ers may think of as the Fringe Land of Washington, hard-working folks from the Washington State Archives maintain the nation's first archive specifically dedicated to the collection and preservation of state and local government electronic records.

The Washington State Archives – Digital Archives opened its doors in the fall of 2004 with the primary mission of collecting, preserving and making accessible government records with "permanent legal, fiscal or historical value." With the support of partners EWU and Microsoft, Digital Archives has assembled 30 different collection categories ranging from "traditional" historic records such as cemetery rosters and family histories to materials directly related to the practice of law, such as corporate records, power of attorney records and select cases from Washington superior courts.

The latter, officially known as the Superior Court Cases collection, is admittedly small and only includes Superior Court case records from Chelan, Skagit and Snohomish counties. The scope note for the collection describes its content as:

... all types of cases tried in Superior Court, including civil, criminal, divorce and probate. However, public access to proceedings involving adoptions, dependency and mental competency is restricted... Each case file contains documents filed by both parties and the presiding judge, including awards, complaints, decrees, depositions, orders, pleadings, sentences, and verdicts.

Despite this collection's relatively small range, we law librarians are excited about it because it gives us and our patrons the ability to search trial-level materials in much greater depth than the access provided by the case databases on the Washington Courts website. People continually ask us to help them find real-world examples of pleading documents and the Superior Court Cases collection will make that task easier. We certainly hope more Washington courts will supply data to Digital Archives and help build the collection into a resource that truly represents litigation across the state.

Another collection that might interest those in the legal profession - perhaps more for its historical value than practical application - is the Frontier Justice collection. A "guide" to litigation records of Washington Territory, it includes summaries from 38,000 District Court cases heard between 1853 and 1889. According to its scope note, the collection includes:

... court actions arising from innumerable causes and tried as civil, criminal, probate, admiralty, and equity cases. The names in the index often reveal a "who's who" of Washington Territory, but in a greater sense the abstract sheds light on the affairs, disputes, settlements, crimes, and forms of justice that touched nearly every inhabitant of territorial Washington.

"Standard" database caveats apply to using any of the collections:


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