Superior Court judges haven't used paper records in Franklin County in more than two years.
But the county's elected clerk will give them paper documents if they ask for them under an agreement that could save taxpayers the heartburn of paying for a lawsuit against themselves.
Michael Killian, the county's independently elected clerk, agreed Tuesday to continue to provide paper copies of court records.
In exchange, the seven judges of the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench who sued Killian over his move to go paperless earlier this year are expected to rescind a rule requiring him to keep paper records and to drop the lawsuit they filed against him in March.
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It was not immediately clear if they will agree.
Dale Kamerrer, the Tumwater attorney who represents the judges, said he needs to learn more about the discussion at Tuesday's regular weekly meeting of the county commission and to confer with his clients before discussing what happens next.
Kamerrer previously told the commission that failing to maintain paper files could put verdicts at risk of being overturned on appeal.
He estimated it would cost $5,000 to take the case to court and another $5,000 to take it through the appeals process.
He told the commissioners that trying mediation would be a costly detour.
But the compromise depends on the judges withdrawing or staying the case, said Brad Peck, commission chairman.
Franklin County, through its prosecutor, Shawn Sant, wants to ask the state attorney general to give an opinion on court records management. It can't do that if there is pending litigation.
The state attorney general previously declined to take up the question, citing the active court case.
An AG opinion won't be binding on Franklin County, but would provide guidance to all sides in what Peck and his fellow commissioners regard as a matter the state should settle on behalf if its 39 counties.
Franklin County found itself in the unenviable position of paying attorneys on both sides of the dispute when the judges sued this year over Killian's move to stop maintaining paper files.
The commission, keeper of the county's finances, readily agreed to fund Killian's defense since he was being sued in his official capacity. In April, it made it clear it wasn't eager to foot the legal bills to initiate a case against itself.
"I don't believe Franklin County citizens should have to bear the cost," Peck said.
Killian said he was happy with the agreement, saying his office has always stood willing to print out documents on request.
Killian's office stopped maintaining paper folders this year as part of the Washington state court system’s migration to the Odyssey court records management system.
Benton County has not dropped paper file keeping. But judges in Franklin County cases, as well as commissioners who adjudicate cases in Benton-Franklin Juvenile Court, have relied exclusively on electronic documents since late 2015.
The judges of the Benton-Franklin Superior Court are split between the two counties. The state pays half their salaries and Benton and Franklin counties split the balance.