FINES -- LIQUOR VIOLATIONS -- DISTRIBUTION TO CITIES AND COUNTIES
Fines collected for violations of the state liquor laws by a justice of the peace who is also a police judge should be remitted to the city wherein that court is seated and all other fines should be distributed to the county wherein the court imposing such fines is located.
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November 19, 1949
Mr. Lawrence Hubble
Division of Municipal Corporations
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 49-51 No. 165
We have your letter of September 23, 1949, in which you ask the following question:
In what cases are the distribution of fines for violation of the state liquor law to be made to cities or towns and in what cases to be made to the counties?
Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:
Those fines collected by a justice of the peace in a city wherein the judge is also a municipal judge should go to such city and all others to the county wherein the fines are incurred.
The matter of the proper distribution of fines imposed for violation of the state liquor act has been considered by this office at various times since the adoption of the act in 1933. The question has been complicated by the fact that the controlling statute is subject to various interpretations, none of which completely embrace the several factual situations which may come within its purview.
As originally enacted, the material portion of section 70, chapter 72, Laws of 1933, Ex. Sess., reads as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"* * * All state, county and municipal peace officers are hereby charged with the duty of investigating and prosecuting all violations of this act, and all fines imposed for violations of this act shall belong to the county, city or town wherein the court imposing the fine is located."
The intent of the legislature that both counties and cities or towns should share in the fines is clear, but the difficulty of determining when the city should receive the benefit of the fines and when the county, is not settled from the language "wherein the court imposing the fine is located." The problem which immediately comes to mind is whether the legislature intended that the location of the court within a city or town was conclusive. That is, if within the city or town it was not to be considered within the county. For example, the superior courts of our state are seated as a matter of convenience in the cities or towns, and are, of course, at the same time, within the territorial limits of the counties. It would seem unlikely that the legislature intended that the fact of location within a city of a superior court was to control the distribution of fines imposed by that court. We find then, two conflicting standards in determining the legislative intent. First, the nature of the court, and secondly, its location.
Section 70, chapter 62, Laws of 1933, was amended in part by section 11, chapter 174, Laws of 1935, with the addition of the following language to that cited above:
"* * * and shall be placed in the general fund for payment of salaries of those engaged in the enforcement of the provisions of this act."
The final amendment was made by section 5, chapter 172, Laws of 1939 [Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 7306-70], which reads in part as follows:
"All county and municipal peace officers are hereby charged with the duty of investigating and prosecuting all violations of this act, and the penal laws of this state relating to the manufacture, importation, transportation, possession, distribution and sale of liquor, and all fines imposed for violations of this act and the penal laws of this state relating to the manufacture, importation, transportation, possession, distribution and sale of liquor shall belong to the county, city or town wherein the court imposing [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the fine is located, and shall be placed in the general fund for payment of the salaries of those engaged in the enforcement of the provisions of this act and the penal laws of this state relating to the manufacture, importation, transportation, possession, distribution and sale of liquor."
This last amendment relieves state officers from the duty of enforcing the act while further charging city and county officers with the investigation and prosecution of the remaining penal laws of the state relating to liquor violations as well as violations under the state liquor act. The evolution of the statute demonstrates a legislative intent to encourage local cooperation and assistance by rewarding local enforcement officers. Thus, in addition to the elements of the location and nature of the court imposing the fines, we have the question of whether city or county officers were engaged in the investigation and prosecution of particular violations.
In 1945 our Supreme Court, in the case of Spokane County v. City of Spokane, 23 Wn. (2d) 286, 290, had before it a case involving the proper distribution of fines imposed for violation of the state liquor laws, by a justice of the peace, whose court was located in the City of Spokane and who was also a municipal judge for the city, investigated and prosecuted by city officers. In that case the court held that the fines belong to the city. The court undertook also to announce a standard to be followed in future cases in the following language:
"We therefore think that the legislature intended that liquor violation fines collected by a justice of the peace who is a municipal police judge should go to the city and the others to the county."
While not necessary to the decision in the case before it, the considered pronouncement of the highest court in our state cannot be disregarded. We cannot assume that the decision in the case was based any less on the circumstance that the justice of the peace was also a police judge, than on the consideration that the city enforcement officers investigated the violations and prosecuted the actions. Although the court declared that the duty to enforce such violations and the right to receive salaries out of the fines derived from such violations are related, it also held that the distribution of those fines is to be determined as of the filing of the complaint or information. We take that latter statement to mean that the particular court in which the information or complaint is filed determines the distribution of the fines.
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
Though at first glance the criterion for distribution set forth in the Spokane case may seem arbitrary, it is a recommendation of much practicability and fairness. The court discusses the question of whether a city or county organization investigated and prosecuted the violations. We must assume that it considered also the question of the nature and the location of the court involved, since it was respondent's contention in its brief that the latter factor was controlling, while appellant claimed that the nature of the court was determinative. Thus, the three elements to which we have referred above were considered by the court in reaching its decision, which decision represents a judicious compromise between conflicting standards. If city officers bring the action it is contrary to the spirit of the statute to distribute the resulting fines to the county, merely because the actions are brought before a justice court, which is primarily a county court. It is equally unfair to remit the fines to a city wherein a county court imposed fines for violations which were the result of enforcement activity on the part of county officers.
What the court proposes is simply that where county officers carry out the investigation and prosecution they should do so in a justice court where the judge is not a police judge; while if city officers bring the action they should do so before those justice courts where the judge is a police judge. The court does not suggest that the fact that the justice of the peace hearing the particular case is or is not a police judge controls the matter in the jurisdictional sense. Since it pointed out in the Spokane opinion that Rem. Rev. Stat. 7306-70 does not confer jurisdiction on the police court as distinguished from a justice court over violations of the state liquor law, but the court does refer the resolution of the controversy to those who are most concerned, the people who incur the trouble and expenses of enforcement.
It is, of course, true that the case of investigation and prosecution by county officers under an information or complaint filed before a justice of the peace who is also a municipal judge was not before the court. We are reluctant to predict what the court would decide under those circumstances, but until such a case arises we feel that the recommendation of the court should be adhered to. It is, therefore, our opinion that fines collected for violations of the state liquor laws by a justice of the peace who is also a police judge should be remitted to the city wherein that court is seated and all other fines should be distributed to the county wherein the court imposing such fines is located.
Very truly yours,
LAWRENCE K. McDONELL
Assistant Attorney General