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AGO 1953 No. 161 - November 02, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

JUSTICE COURT'S JURISDICTION ‑- EXCLUSIVE OR CONCURRENT WITH SUPERIOR COURTS

Justice courts and superior courts have concurrent jurisdiction of cases involving $300 and less.  In cities of over 20,000 population where the justice of the peace is also the police judge, he may, under RCW 3.16.004 receive a total salary in excess of $5400.00 per year.

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                                                                November 2, 1953

Honorable Tom A. Durham
Prosecuting Attorney
Whatcom County
Court House
Bellingham, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 161

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of October 14, 1953, you requested an opinion on the following questions:

            1.         "Do the words 'original jurisdiction,' as contained in Constitutional Amendment 28 (Art. 4, Sec. 6 and Art. 4, Sec. 10) mean 'exclusive jurisdiction?'"

            2.         "In cities of over 20,000 population where the Justice of the Peace is also the Police Judge, may he, under the terms of RCW 3.16.004 receive a total salary forboth positions in excess of $5400.00 per year?"

            In our opinion the answers to your questions are as follows:

            1. No, original does not mean exclusive; therefore, justice and superior courts have concurrent jurisdiction in civil cases involving $300.00 or less.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            2. Yes.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            "Original" jurisdiction is jurisdiction in the first instance; to take cognizance of a cause at its inception.  Distinguished from "appellate" jurisdiction.  Black's Law Dictionary, 3rd Ed. (1933).  "Exclusive" jurisdiction is that which gives sole power to try the cause.  Words and Phrases, perm. ed. (1950).

            The case ofState ex rel. Shannon v. Hunter, 3 Wash. 92 (1891) is directly in point with question No. 1.  In that case the language of the Washington Constitution, Art. IV, section 6 was the same as it is today in the new amendment except for the monetary amount of jurisdiction being changed.  Pertinent language is as follows:

            "* * * The superior court shall also have original jurisdiction in all cases and of all proceedings in which jurisdiction shall not have been by law vestedexclusively in some other court; * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            As regards justice's jurisdiction, the original Washington Constitution, Art. IV, section 10, authorized the legislature to fix the jurisdiction.  The statute enacted pursuant to this section of the constitution provided in part:

            "* * * 'Every justice of the peace shall have jurisdiction and cognizance of the following civil actions and proceedings;' * * *"

            The court, in the above case, interpreted this language in the following manner:

            "* * * it seems clear that by such language simply jurisdiction is conferred, and not exclusive jurisdiction.  * * * It must therefore be held that the legislature has not as yet conferred exclusive jurisdiction upon justices of the peace in actions like the one at bar, and for that reason the superior court must be held to have jurisdiction.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The 1951 legislature increased the jurisdiction of justice courts in amendment 28, Art. IV, section 10, by the following language:

            "* * * Justices of the peace shall have original jurisdiction in cases * * * less than three hundred dollars or such greater sum, not to exceed one thousand dollars, as shall be prescribed by the legislature.  * * *"

            We conclude that this amendment did not confer exclusive jurisdiction, but merely increased the amount of the justice's jurisdiction.

            The language of the Constitution, Art. IV, section 6, is set up so that when and if the legislature confers original jurisdiction on justices of the peace, the superior courts will be so restricted.  However, this has not as yet been done.

            Aside from the actual language of the constitution, other statutes in effect in Washington would be meaningless if a construction of exclusive jurisdiction is reached.

            For example, the Washington cost statute, RCW 4.84.030 provides as follows:

            "* * * but the plaintiff shall in no case be entitled to costs taxed as attorneys' fees in actions within the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace, when commenced in the superior court."

            Therefore, construing the constitution along with the Washington cost statute, we conclude that the case of State ex rel. Shannon v. Hunter, supra, is still good law in Washington and it remains for the legislature to grant exclusive jurisdiction to justices of the peace.

            Your second question concerns the maximum salary available to a justice of the peace who is also the police judge of a city over twenty thousand in population.  RCW 3.16.004 indicates that the minimum annual salary must be $5,400.  The last sentence of this section provides:

            "* * * That where justices of the peace in cities over the population of twenty thousand are also acting as  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] police judges their salaries shall be fixed by the legislative body of the city, three thousand dollars of which shall be charged against the counties and the remainder shall be paid by the municipality."

            The same section also prescribes a maximum salary of $6,500 for justices of the peace in cities of twenty thousand.  There appears to be no statutory maximum for salaries of those justices of the peace who also serve as police judges.

            However, the legislative body of the city must fix the salary before the justice of the peace (police judge) takes office as the salary cannot be increased or decreased during the term of office.  Washington Constitution Art. II, § 25;Everett v. Johnson, 37 Wn. (2d) 505, 224 P. (2d) 617 (1950).

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


CAROLYN J. REABER
Assistant Attorney General

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