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Comm. Eric B. Watness
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Comm. Eric B. Watness (Ret.)

Latest Insights
Upcoming Events
General Biography
Practice Areas
American Indian Tribal Law
Business Commercial
Construction Defect
Education Law
Estate Probate Trusts
Family Law
Governmental & Public Agency
Personal Injury
Professional Liability
Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities
Background and Education

Commissioner Eric B. Watness (Ret.), an experienced neutral, spent over 16 years as Court Commissioner with the King County Superior Court in their Ex Parte and Probate Department and Juvenile Court Department where he gained extensive experience handling and settling family law and probate matters. Commissioner Watness presided over Ex Parte and Probate matters, Juvenile Court Dependency and Termination of Parental Rights petitions, Juvenile Offender matters, Truancy proceedings, Family Law Motions and the Adult Plea and Disposition calendar. He conducted trials as Judge Pro Tem and also handled numerous judicial settlement conferences.

Prior to becoming a commissioner, he was in private practice for 13 years with an emphasis on family law, probate, adult guardianship, and adoptions. Commissioner Watness began his legal career as an Assistant Attorney General for the Washington State Attorney General where he represented the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services in child support enforcement, parole revocation hearings, juvenile court dependency, and termination of parental rights trials.

Over more than the last decade, Commissioner Watness has provided a wide range of dispute resolution services through JAMS as a mediator, arbitrator, and special master. His expertise covers probate, trust, minor settlement, guardianship and conservator matters, all aspects of family and juvenile law matters, collections, property disputes, and personal injury proceedings. He had also spoken and written frequently on legal subjects related to these as well as ethics, alternate dispute resolution and civil law practice.

ADR Experience and Qualifications

  • Successful mediator and arbitrator of many types of cases including employment, breach of contract, estate/probate, family law and personal injury issues
  • Served 16 years as Court Commissioner with King County Superior Court Probate and Juvenile Court Department
  • Thirteen years in private practice handling family law, adoption, and probate matters
  • Spent five years as Assistant Attorney General representing the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, child support, and juvenile dependency
  • Frequent presenter and author for attorney continuing education programs pertaining to court commissioner duties in the civil, probate, guardianship, trust, adoption, and juvenile court practice areas
  • Conducted judicial settlement conferences

Representative Matters

  • American Indian Tribal Law
      • Handled Indian child welfare issues including adoptions; worked with the Seattle Indian Center
  • Business Commercial
      • Mediated business dissolution and collection matters
      • Mediated business dissolution successfully
      • Resolved partnership dispute resulting in one partner buying out the other.
      • Resolved wrongful foreclosure matter including amount of damages
      • Mediated matter where plaintiff in Washington action seeks contract damages for unpaid invoice balance to include insurance premiums and other unspecified expenses plus UCC filing fees and default flat fees plus attorney fees for Washington action and for a dismissed Oregon action
      • As a businessman, owned and operated a Bed and Breakfast in the Seattle area thus is knowledgeable in all aspects of running a business including employment issues, licensing and taxes, food regulations, and sales/marketing
  • Construction Defect
      • Supervised a guardianship that included a home with window and siding construction defects
      • As a commissioner, oversaw receiverships involving large construction projects
      • Owned a 4-unit condominium building and gained experience with construction defect and other issues such as tank removal and a suit against a bond
  • Debtor/Creditor
      • As a court appointed referee oversaw supplemental proceedings examination including issuing rulings on evidence objections, periodic reports to superior court and directing collection of property in satisfaction of a multimillion dollar judgment
  • Education Law
      • As an attorney, worked on special education cases
  • Employment
      • Mediated breach of employment contract cases including non-compete issues between veterinarian and his former employer regarding hiring away of employees of former employer.
      • Resolved dispute between company and employee regarding employee’s status – employee v. contractor
  • Estate Probate Trusts
      • As a mediator and arbitrator, has extensive experience with a vast amount of cases ranging from straight forward to very complex estate and trust matters
      •  Mediated matter concerning a trust action against bank trustee for alleged mishandling of estate and LLC holdings
      • Successfully settled dispute between four siblings regarding parents’ estate; successfully settled guardianship matter involving 83 year-old mother and two children involving financial and health decisions
      • Settled matter involving multi-million dollar life insurance policy that had claims by both current and former spouses of deceased
      • As a Special Master for Trust, probate and LLC/partnerships: Conducted an investigation and issued reports to the court as a Special Master into alleged mismanagement of interrelated family real estate partnerships, LLCs and trusts holding a marina (dissolved through receivership) and two apartment complexes managed by one sibling who was also appointed as a personal representative in probate estate
      • As a commissioner, oversaw liquidation of significant business and personal properties for intestate estates, ruled on adult guardianships including contested matters, heard a matter involving removal of a trustee and the appointment of a receiver in lieu of a successor trustee. As a lawyer, his practice focused on probate and adult guardianship matters
  • Family Law
    • Resolved, as a mediator, arbitrator, attorney, commissioner, settlement judge, and judge pro tem, numerous matters involving all aspects of marriage dissolutions such as:
      • property division
      • child support
      • maintenance
      • parenting and visitation plans
      • relocation of one parent, prenuptial agreements
      • termination of parental rights
      • non-parental custody
      • substance abuse issues and claims of domestic violence
      • Expertise in adoption matters, both domestic and foreign. As a practitioner, represented private adoption agencies. Handled matters involving same sex and domestic partnerships
  • Governmental & Public Agency
      • Represented the Department of Social and Health Services for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and therefore has understanding of child support and child welfare issues and experience applying state and federal welfare regulations
  • Insurance
      • Resolved dispute between former and current spouse of decedent regarding proceeds of life insurance. Divorce decree with former wife had proceeds going to her in total
  • Personal Injury
      • Mediated matters including wrongful death claim of a man hit by a truck and elder abuse against a convalescent center
      • Arbitrated underinsured motorist claims
      • Mediated malicious prosecution case stemming from contentious dissolution case when one party came to house to pick up personal items per decree, former spouse called police
      • Resolved motor vehicle collision case involving commercial vehicle
      • Mediated personal injury matter that occurred in a container terminal
      • As a commissioner, reviewed Minor Settlement proposals for approval. In a post minor settlement proceeding, reviewed law suit by a child against his father and the bank for theft of his settlement funds that had been ordered into a blocked account.
      • Many matters involving vulnerable adults including injury and abuse claims
  • Professional Liability
      • Mediated claim for special and general damages alleged to have resulted from improper dental implants
      • Claim against broker, real estate agent and law firm that processed escrow on the purchase of a business
  • Real Property
      • Commissioner Eric B Watness (Ret) has been both a tenant and a landlord. More significantly during his assignment in the King County Superior Court Ex Parte and Probate Department he heard and adjudicated approximately one third of all eviction proceedings filed in King County under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. In addition he decided many commercial eviction complaints and handled related matters including receivership petitions and foreclosure proceedings. He also participated in numerous continuing education sessions for attorneys and pro tem commissioners discussing views from the bench. The Commissioner is well suited to assist, both in experience and demeanor, with resolution of landlord and tenant matters for the purpose of achieving satisfactory, mutually agreeable results short of litigation.
        • Mediated landlord-tenant dispute and a partition action involving a condo that parties owned as tenants in common
        • Resolved landlord-tenant dispute over water damage, cat damage and hoarding behavior
        • Settled dispute over prescriptive easement and removal of obstructions between two adjacent properties
        • Mediated property line dispute and resolved title to disputed real estate, parties agreed to divide property along obvious uses
        • Settled property line/fence alignment dispute between two neighbors and restated the parties’ driveway easement
        • Mediated case concerning retaining wall that allegedly encroached onto neighbor’s property

Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities

Completed Virtual ADR training conducted by the JAMS Institute, the training arm of JAMS.

  • Awarded, Betty B. Fletcher Judge of the Year to all King County Superior Court Commissioners by Washington Women Lawyers, 2011
  • Member, Washington State Bar Association Elder Law Section, serving on Executive Committee as co-chair of grants committee, 2011
  • Member, Washington State Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, 2011
  • Awarded, Angel in Adoption Award, Congressional Coalition on Adoption by nomination of Washington Rep. Jay Inslee, 2010
  • Awarded, Outstanding Leadership and Commitment, Guardianship GAL Program Chair King County Bar Association, 2009
  • Member, Guardianship/Probate Judges Committee, Washington Superior Court Judges Association, 2009-present
  • Member, Washington Court Improvement Program Grant Steering Committee, By appointment of the Washington State Supreme Court, 2005-present
  • Judicial Co-Chair, King County Bar Association Guardianship GAL continuing education program, 2000-present
  • Member, King County Unified Family Court Committee, 2000-2001
  • Awarded, Outstanding Achievement Award, Region 4 Adoption Project Washington DSHS Div of Child and Family Services, 2000
  • Member, Family and Juvenile Law Judges Committee, Washington Superior Court Judges Association, 1991-present
  • Member and Past President, Washington Family Support Council, 1979-1981
  • Training, New Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act, Washington State Bar Association, October 2023
  • Participates as a student and presenter in frequent continuing legal education programs focused on family law, elder abuse, probate, guardianship, and juvenile delinquency.

Background and Education

  • Court Commissioner, King County Superior Court, Ex Parte and Probate Department and Juvenile Court Department, 1995-2011
  • Founding partner and Attorney at Law, Eric B. Watness and Associates, Seattle, 1982-1995
  • Assistant Attorney General, Washington State Attorney General, Representing Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, 1977-1982
  • J.D., Willamette University College of Law, Salem, OR, 1977
  • B.S. in Sociology and History, Portland State University, Portland, OR, 1974
  • Portland Community College, Portland, OR, 1970-1971
  • Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, 1966-1967


This page is for general information purposes.  JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness.  Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More

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