County auditor finds barriers to access, inequities in outcomes for people seeking protection orders

The auditors made several recommendations to improve the protection order process.

A flow chart showing the protection order process (Screenshot from King County Auditor’s Office report)

A flow chart showing the protection order process (Screenshot from King County Auditor’s Office report)

In King County, people seeking a protection order – a legal restriction to contact from a harassing or abusing individual – face complex processes, insufficient help and racial disparities in outcomes, according to a new report from the King County Auditor’s Office.

The findings of the audit were presented to the King County Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee on May 3.

The audit, which looked at protection order petitions in King County Superior Court between January 2016 and June 2021, found that while many petitioners received temporary orders, fewer received full protection orders.

Of the 5,512 petitions filed in Superior Court in the 18 months between January 2020 and June 2021, 78 percent resulted in a temporary order and 35 percent of petitioners obtained a full protection order.

The goal is for protection order proceedings to be accessible to self-represented petitioners, but the process set by the state can be complicated and time consuming, according to the audit. The process is a multi-step legal process, with multiple forms and a minimum of two court hearings.

According to findings in the audit, petitioners are more successful in obtaining a full order when they have an attorney or advocate, but most individuals do not have this help. Between 2016 and mid-2021, only 9 percent of petitioners – across all types of orders – had an attorney.

Advocates in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office who assist petitioners experiencing intimate partner domestic violence provided detailed filing assistance to only 11% of domestic violence protection order petitioners, and other assistance to about half of domestic violence petitioners, between January 2020 and mid-2021.

The auditors also identified racial disparities in protection order outcomes. From 2016 to mid-2021, Black and American Indian petitioners were less likely than other petitioners to obtain full protection orders. Only 33 percent of Black petitioners and 34 percent of American Indian petitioners obtained full orders, compared with 37 to 49 percent of petitioners of other races.

Even after new state requirements are implemented, auditors are concerned some barriers in King County could persist without additional improvements. Unless addressed, these types of barriers can make it difficult for individuals to navigate the process and may contribute to racial disparities in outcomes, including: limited resources to provide personalized assistance, gaps in language support for non-English speakers, inconsistent information on county websites, and lack of regular data analysis.

The auditors noted that King County Superior Court did not choose to fully participate in this audit, so they did not have the full and unrestricted access to all persons, property, and records that are granted to them by King County Code.

Instead, they based their conclusions on observations of public court proceedings, interviews with individuals in other agencies who play key roles in Superior Court’s protection order processes, and reviews of publicly available documents about Superior Court’s processes. With this approach, auditors were able to see protection order processes as a person going through the process might see them.

The county auditors recommended a number of measures and actions to improve access and remove barriers to these orders for those in need, including: a workgroup to work with stakeholders to improve the process, better data tracking for protection order outcomes, improved assistance for self-represented protection order petitioners, comprehensive state legislation on the issue, better informational resources for petitioners, and improved access and resources for non-English speaking petitioners.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bellevuereporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bellevuereporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

File photo.
King County Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce amid rash of dispensary robberies

The multi-agency task force will cooperate to find ways to improve safety in the cash-only industry.

Screenshot from ORCA website
New ORCA system launches for regional transit across the Puget Sound

Overhaul includes new website, mobile application and digital business account manager.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

The Newport Team launches their rocket. Courtesy of AIA.
Newport High School team crowned National Champions at American Rocketry Challenge

The team will represent the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge this July.

Screenshot from Bellevue School Foundation website
Bellevue Schools Foundation to study affordable housing in the community

Research made possible with $250,000 grant from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund

FILE PHOTO: King County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Dozens of King County Sheriff’s Office employees left jobs instead of getting vaccinated

This added on to the existing number of vacancies in the department.

Courtesy of Bellevue Downtown Association
Bellevue Downtown Association to host 15th Annual Bellevue Jazz & Blues Music Series

The event will be from June 1st to 5th and will feature over 25 artists.

King County logo
King County audit finds backlog of property tax exemption applications for seniors, people with disabilities, and disabled veterans

The auditors found that program expansions lead to three-times the amount of applications.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson (Screenshot from video press conference)
AG announces $518 million settlement from pharmaceutical companies over their role in opioid crisis

Most of the settlement money will be used to mitigate the opioid crisis in Washington.

Most Read