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In re Marriage of May Ann Green

February 3, 1997

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: MAY ANN GREEN, APPELLANT, AND PHILLIP A. GREEN, RESPONDENT.


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 92-3-02819-4. Date filed: 04/03/95. Judge signing: Hon. Nancy A. Holman.

Petition for Review Denied September 3, 1997,

PER CURIAM -- The child support order entered at the Conclusion of May Ann and Phillip Green's 1993 marital dissolution trial before Judge Dale Ramerman provided that the Family Law Department of the King County Superior Court would retain jurisdiction of the cause for six months from entry. In a subsequent order denying both parties' motions for reconsideration, Judge Ramerman stated, "The court will deny both motions to reconsider, but will modify its prior order to provide that the court will retain jurisdiction of this case indefinitely." Clerk's Papers at 1.

The following year, Phillip Green moved for an order terminating his obligation to pay child support for the parties' younger son Jonathan, and attempted to schedule a show cause hearing before Judge Ramerman. At the time of the motion, Judge Ramerman had transferred to the Criminal Department and was hearing only criminal cases. Mr. Green was told to schedule the matter before the Family Law Department. The motion was heard and granted by Pro Tem Family Court Commissioner Hollis Holman, who also imposed $500 in terms against May Ann Green for failure to appear as required by the order to show cause.

Upon receiving notice that Phillip Green's obligation to pay child support for Jonathan had been terminated, May Ann Green's counsel wrote to Commissioner Holman, contending that Judge Ramerman had retained jurisdiction in the parties' case and that the Family Law Department and Commissioner Holman had no jurisdiction to make a ruling in the matter. Commissioner Holman informed counsel that the letter was not a proper motion and would not be considered.

May Ann Green then brought a motion for revision of the commissioner's ruling. The motion for revision and a subsequent motion for reconsideration were heard by Judge Nancy Ann Holman. Judge Holman denied the motions, and imposed an additional $250 in terms against May Ann Green.

May Ann Green now appeals, contending, as she did below, that the statement "the court will retain jurisdiction of this case indefinitely" in Judge Ramerman's order denying reconsideration meant that Judge Ramerman would have sole and exclusive jurisdiction in this case to the exclusion of all other Judges in the Superior Court. We observe that Judge Ramerman's order that "the court will retain jurisdiction of this case indefinitely", particularly when read in light of the first order retaining jurisdiction in the Family Law Department, could be interpreted as a retention of jurisdiction by the Family Law Department rather than by Judge Ramerman individually. Both parties nevertheless interpreted the order to mean that Judge Ramerman retained individual responsibility over post-decree matters. Phillip Green demonstrated his belief that this was so by attempting to schedule the show cause hearing before Judge Ramerman. May Ann Green demonstrated her belief that this was so by arguing from the outset that the court commissioner lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter. Judge Holman based her rulings, at least in part, on a determination that Judge Ramerman orally relinquished jurisdiction in favor of the Family Law Department when Mr. Green attempted to note the support termination hearing in Judge Ramerman's courtroom and was turned away. Accordingly, for purposes of this appeal, we will assume that Judge Ramerman intended to retain individual responsibility to decide post-decree issues arising in the case, for purposes of continuity or for some other valid reason.

May Ann Green cites no authority for the proposition that a single Judge, through language in a decree, may divest the entire remaining superior court of jurisdiction to hear an ongoing family law case, and we know of none. RCW 26.12.010 provides that jurisdiction of matters brought under Ch. 26 RCW is conferred on the superior court. In its exercise of jurisdiction under this statute, the superior court is referred to as the "family court." RCW 26.12.010(1). Judges sitting on the superior court in the same county have identical authority. State ex rel. Campbell v. Superior Court, 34 Wash. 2d 771, 775, 210 P.2d 123 (1949); State v. Caughlan, 40 Wash. 2d 729, 732, 246 P.2d 485 (1952). This is because our state constitution provides that judgments of any Judge of the superior court shall be equally effectual as if all the Judges of the court presided at the session. Wash. Const. art. 4, sec. 5.

In Campbell v. Superior Court, the contention was made that a case could not be heard by the family court because the Judges of the King County Superior Court had not yet appointed one of their members to act as the family court Judge as required by the then newly-created Family Court Act. Campbell, 34 Wash. 2d at 772-73. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the fact that the Judges had not yet designated one or more of their members to be family court Judge did not preclude any of them from individually making such a designation and acting as a family court Judge. Id. at 778. The court stated that when a particular Judge is designated as the "probate Judge" or the "juvenile court Judge", the other departments of the superior court in that county do not lose jurisdiction to hear proceedings in probate or juvenile court matters. Id. at 775. The Campbell court quoted the California appellate court's statement in People v. Barbera, 78 Cal. App. 277, 280, 248 P. 304 (1926) that "whether sitting separately or together, the Judges of the superior court hold but one and the same court, and the jurisdiction they exercise in any cause is that of the court and not the individual[.]" Campbell, 34 Wash. 2d at 776.

In State v. Caughlan, the appellant contended that the court erred in considering the respondent's motion to dismiss while the cause was still pending before another department of the same court. Caughlan, 40 Wash. 2d at 731. The Caughlan court summarily rejected this contention, pointing out that Judges in the same court have identical jurisdiction. Id., at 732 (citing Campbell, 34 Wash. 2d at 775). These cases persuade us that when, as here, a Judge "retains jurisdiction" over post-decree proceedings, he does not thereby deprive the other members of the court of their statutory jurisdiction over those same proceedings.

To construe a retention of "jurisdiction" by one Judge as a limitation on an entire superior court's constitutional and statutory authority to act in ongoing cases such as this one would be untenable, given the frequency of changes of assignments and duties among superior court Judges in multi- Judge counties. Such a result would cause inordinate delays in the administration of Justice. We hold that to the extent that Judge Ramerman may have intended to retain individual responsibility to decide post-decree issues arising in this case, the order did not divest the rest of the King County Superior Court of jurisdiction over those same matters.

By so ruling, we do not intend to discourage Judges from retaining individual responsibility to hear post-decree matters, particularly in family law cases where continuity is often desirable. We are aware that Judges and lawyers frequently refer to such retention of individual responsibility as a retention of "jurisdiction." But in this context, the use of the word "jurisdiction" cannot be taken literally, and should be construed to mean, instead, the retention of individual responsibility for the case.

Ms. Green also argues that Judge Ramerman's oral relinquishment of control over the case was ineffective, and that a written order of relinquishment was required. We disagree. Although a written order might be desirable in order to prevent "Judge shopping," we can think of instances where obtaining a written order would be impossible, e.g., in the event of the death or disability of the Judge in question, or where obtaining a written order would be unduly inconvenient, e.g., in the event of the retirement of the Judge in question, or in the event of his or her elevation to a higher court. Here, Judge Ramerman had moved to the Criminal Department and was no longer hearing family law cases, a fact of which the remainder of the court no doubt was fully aware. Thus, there was no implication of "Judge shopping." Indeed, Mr. Green attempted first to schedule the hearing before Judge Ramerman and was turned away. Because the remainder of the King County Superior Court was not deprived of jurisdiction over the matter by the language in Judge Ramerman's order, we hold that a written order of relinquishment was not required.

Both parties request attorney fees on appeal. Phillip Green contends that he has incurred unnecessary costs in responding to two appeals, the first being the motion for revision heard by Judge Holman, and the second being the instant appeal to this court. May Ann Green simply bases her request on RAP 18.1, without specifying the applicable law referred to in that rule upon which she relies.

We disagree with Mr. Green's characterization of the revision proceeding before Judge Holman as an "appeal." The court rule governing revisions makes it clear that revision proceedings are not appeals but are de novo proceedings: "All revisions shall be de novo based on all of the materials, including the papers and pleadings in the court file, submitted to the Commissioner." LR 7(b)(1)(J). The proceeding before Judge Holman was not an appeal. That a party exercises the ...


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