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Judge Elizabeth J. Berns - Superior Court

How to contact a King County Superior Court judge and get ready for your trial or motion.

  • Courtroom Number: 3J
  • Bailiff: Kelli Northrop
  • Department: 25
  • Assignment: Civil and Criminal

Biography

Judge Berns is a native to Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a B.S. in Environmental Health and Law. Before beginning her legal career, Judge Berns was a research scientist and author in the field of chemistry and indoor air pollution. Her concern for the rights of others as a result of contamination issues brought her to the University of Puget Sound School of Law, where she received her J.D. in 1993.

Judge Berns began her legal career working with the State Attorney General’s Office, Division of Labor & Industries, doing workers’ compensation law. She then opened her own practice where she spent the next two decades supporting individuals, families, and businesses in the areas of workers’ compensation, estate planning and probate, business and intellectual property, and family law. In 2009, she began serving her community as a Pro Tem Judge in municipal courts and King County District Court, and as a Pro Tem Commissioner in King County Superior Court. Judge Berns joined the King County Superior Court Bench in January 2013, has served as the Lead Dependency and Family Treatment Court Judge, and currently serves as the Adult Drug Diversion Court Judge at the Maleng Regional Justice Center.

Judge Berns has been active helping others understand domestic violence, sexual assault and the impact of trauma exposure. She has co-authored chapters in the Sexual Offense Bench Guide for Judges, and in the Domestic Violence Manual for Judges. She is the Project Chair for the King County Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Coordinated Response Oversight Committee, and is also the Judicial Lead for the King County Superior Court’s TraumaCare Project. She is on the Advisory Board for the Center for Children and Youth Justice eQuality Project, a National Advisor to the Battered Women’s Justice Project, and on the faculty for the National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges judicial education programs entitled “Enhancing Judicial Skills in Domestic Violence Cases.” She is a frequent presenter at state training conferences, for the National Judicial College, and for the American Judges Association.

 

Requests

General information

All working papers should be submitted by using the Clerk’s Office Electronic Portal submission, after e-filing your documents. Judge Berns does not accept working copies by email.

All proposed orders should be submitted in MS Word format. Judge Berns will then e-sign and e-serve orders electronically. Parties are responsible for signing up for e-service, through the Clerk’s Office.

Guidelines for conduct at trial

It is the responsibility of the court to ensure the efficient use of court time, the efficient use of jurors’ time, and to see that litigation is conducted in an expeditious and professional manner. In order to achieve these objectives, all individuals appearing in this court should keep the following guidelines in mind.

Addressing participants

  1. When addressing the court, counsel or parties shall stand unless given leave to do otherwise. In addition, counsel/parties shall only use last names when addressing anyone involved in the case, i.e. “my client, Mr. Green,” “the defendant, Ms. Scarlet,” “the witness, Professor Plum.”
  2. During voir dire, jurors shall be addressed by their number, i.e., “Juror Number 5”. In order to maintain a clear record, jurors shall not be referred to by their name.

Opening statements

  1. Please keep opening statements short and concise. No arguments.
  2. In jury cases, briefly give your theory of the case in narrative form. You may advise the jury in a general way so that the evidence will support your version of the case.
  3. Do not indulge in argument or in overly lengthy and detailed opening statements.
  4. This court does not favor objections during opening or closing statements unless absolutely necessary. If appropriate, counsel/parties may ask to note an objection on the record outside the presence of a jury.

Rules for examining witnesses

  1. Counsel or parties shall remain at the table unless given leave to do otherwise.
  2. Do not approach the witness unless you have permission from the court. Permission to approach the witness must be given before approaching.
  3. Do not interrupt the proceedings while counsel is addressing the court or the jury, except to state a valid objection.
  4. Leading questions will be allowed for preliminary matters only, unless otherwise authorized by the court.
  5. Re-direct and re-cross are limited to issues raised on cross and re-direct.
  6. Voir dire of a witness is allowed only to lay a foundation for an objection. Counsel/parties may ask to voir dire a witness for foundation purposes, however, voir dire shall be brief and limited to the issue.

Objections

  1. Anticipatory objections shall be addressed by a motion in limine and should not be raised again during trial. To protect the record, and upon request, counsel shall be allowed a running objection to clearly predefined lines of questions and answers.
  2. Make evidentiary objections promptly as the occasion arises.
  3. Direct all objections to the court and not to opposing counsel.
  4. Speaking objections are not allowed. Counsel/parties should state “objection” and provide specific grounds under the Rules of Evidence, i.e. “objection, lack of foundation.”
  5. When the jury is impanelled, the court will instruct the jurors that if counsel has an objection, he/she will say ‘objection’ followed by a 5 to 10 word basis for the objection. The court will then rule on the objection.
  6. Argument is prohibited unless requested by the court or requested by counsel and granted by the court.

Conference at bench

  1. Sidebars are not favored by the court. In some instances they may be unavoidable. All sidebars will be on the record and outside the presence of the jury.
  2. Do not argue your objection in front of the jury. Ask for a sidebar outside the presence of the jury. Anticipatory objections should be raised via a motion in limine. The court will advise the jury before the commencement of the trial that the court will conduct sidebars outside the presence of the jury.
  3. The court will also advise the jurors that counsel/parties have been instructed not to make argument on their objections in front of the jury.
  4. Sidebar arguments will be limited to two minutes or less. Counsel making the objection shall speak first, followed by opposing counsel. Do not begin arguing until instructed by the court. Do not abuse requests for sidebars. It is the responsibility of counsel to ensure that a clear record is made.

Exhibits - civil cases

  1. The official “Clerk’s Copy” exhibit binders for civil cases shall be separated by numbered tabs (per the Pre-Trial Order) and will be marked prior to the start of trial by the courtroom clerk. The jury will not be kept waiting while counsel takes time to organize or have exhibits marked by the clerk during trial.
  2. Counsel must use the “Clerk’s Copy” exhibit binder when referring a witness to a specific exhibit. Individual exhibits shall never be removed from the binder. Counsel shall provide the witness with the exhibit binder if needed during examination.

Exhibits - criminal cases

  1. The official “Clerk’s Copy” exhibits shall be marked prior to the start of trial by the courtroom clerk. The jury will not be kept waiting while counsel takes time to organize or have exhibits marked by the clerk during trial.
  2. Counsel/parties must use the marked exhibit when examining a witness.

Exhibits - all cases

  1. Understand the procedure for establishing foundation and admissibility.
  2. Counsel/parties may only display and move an exhibit around the courtroom with permission of the court.
  3. You must refer to the exhibit by the exhibit number provided by the courtroom clerk.

General guidelines

  1. Stipulations shall be made to the court in the absence of the jury. After the offer is made, opposing counsel may either accept or reject such stipulations, or ask for a conference to state conditions or additions.
  2. There will be no wisecracking, no comments on the evidence, and no remarks made to the jury except for opening statement or closing argument. Counsel should advise clients, witnesses and any observers to make no comments, sounds or facial expressions of disbelief or belief in the courtroom. Any individual who does not conduct themselves in a courteous, professional manner may be subject to reprimand, removal and/or sanctions. Counsel/parties shall conduct examinations of witnesses at a reasonable distance away from the witness chair, so that jurors and opposing counsel may hear the questions and answers and observe the witness’ response.
  3. Counsel or parties shall refrain from making derogatory remarks, inferences or insinuations about each other or their handling of the case. This is a trial between parties and not counsel. When two or more attorneys are on the same side trying a case, the attorney conducting the examination of the witness shall continue until the witness is excused from the stand. All objections made or exceptions taken during the examination of such witness shall be made or announced by the attorney who is conducting the examination or cross-examination.

Jury Instructions (CR 51 and CRR 6.15)

  1. Proposed jury instructions shall be served and filed prior to commencement of trial, per the local rules.
  2. Counsel or parties shall provide one hard copy and one electronic copy of the proposed cited instructions, numbered and identified as to proposing party, along with supporting annotations. The court’s copy should be emailed to the bailiff and submitted in Word format.
  3. Additionally, counsel/parties shall provide the court with one uncited copy (i.e., “Instruction No. ______”) with no identification as to the proposing party. The copy should also include a cover page entitled “Court’s Instructions to the Jury.” The court’s copy should be emailed to the bailiff and submitted in Word format.

Presentation of findings and conclusions

  1. In non-jury cases, counsel/parties shall submit proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law promptly following the conclusion of the trial or hearing.
  2. The Findings of Fact should be limited to a statement of the essential ultimate facts and Conclusions of Law should be limited to the essential legal conclusions.
  3. Objections to proposed Findings and Conclusions should be presented to the court in writing following the conclusion of the trial.
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