Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1953 No. 153 - October 23, 1953
AGO Opinion Header Image
Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

JUSTICE COURT DISTRICTS ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- PERSONS ELIGIBLE TO SERVE AS POLICE JUDGES IN CITIES UNDER FIVE THOUSAND PURSUANT TO JUSTICE COURT DISTRICT ACT. 

Effective January 10, 1955; (1) Incorporated cities under five thousand population must be contained within a justice court district, (2) the police justice of a fourth class town must be the district justice of the peace of the district containing such town, (3) the mayor of a third class city under five thousand may appoint as police judge the district justice of the peace of the district in which such city is contained, or he may appoint some other person to serve as police judge, as he sees fit. 

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                October 23, 1953 

Honorable Wilbur G. Hallauer
State Representative, First District
P.O. Box 1398
Oroville, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 153

 

Dear Sir: 

            We have your letter of October 6, 1953, in which you indicate that Okanogan county has seven towns under five thousand in population which maintain police judges.  No town in the county presently exceeds five thousand.  Your inquiry involves a construction of the justice court district act (chapter 3.14 RCW, as amended by chapter 206, Laws of 1953).  Your specific questions are as follows: 

            1. Is it mandatory that towns under five thousand be included in such districts? 

            2. If such a town is included in such a justice court district, may the municipality maintain its own police judge separately from such district? 

            In our opinion, your questions may be answered as follows: 

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            1. Any town under five thousand population must be included within the justice court district. 

            2. The only person eligible to serve as police judge in a fourth class town the peace of such district.  The mayor of a third class city under five thousand will be, as of the second Monday of January, 1955, the duly elected justice of may appoint as police judge the district justice of the peace of the district in which such city is contained, or he may appoint some other person to serve as police judge, as he sees fit. 

                                                                     ANALYSIS 

            RCW 3.14.010, as amended by section 1, chapter 206, Laws of 1953, provides for a justice court district committee.  It further provides in part as follows: 

            "It shall be the duty of the committee to meet prior to January 1, 1954, and again within one year from the date of any official federal or county census, for the purpose of grouping the precincts of the county, other than those lying within or partly within cities of five thousand or more population, into one or more justice court districts:  Provided, That incorporated cities or towns having a population of not more than five thousand, together with the adjoining precincts, if any, lying partly within and partly without such cities or towns, may be combined by the district committee with county precincts, and with each other, to form a justice court district.

 

            "Justice court districtsshall be established in each county by resolution of the board of county commissioners, in accordance with the findings and recommendations of the committee, before July 1, 1954, and again subsequent to the meetings held pursuant to a federal or county census."  (Emphasis supplied) 

            It is our opinion that the legislature intended to include within justice court districts every precinct of the state which is not contained wholly or in part within the limits of a city over five thousand in population.  The 1953 legislature substituted the term "shall" for "may" in the paragraph last quoted  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] above.  This indicates a legislative intention that the formation of such districts is mandatory rather than discretionary.  Location of the boundaries of such districts is discretionary with the district committee, but no authority to exclude individual precincts from such districts is contained in the act. 

            Your second question involves a construction of the following provision, also contained in section 1, chapter 206, Laws of 1953: 

            "When the precincts of one or more cities or towns of less than five thousand population are grouped within one justice court district, the justice of the peace for that district may be appointed the police judge of any such city or town within the district by the proper appointing authority of any such city, regardless of the place of residence, and, in such case, shall have exclusive jurisdiction over violations of the ordinances of said cities or towns." 

            RCW 35.27.520 requires that the police justice of every fourth class town shall be appointed from among the regularly elected justices of the peace.  As of the second Monday of January, 1955, the only regularly elected justice of the peace eligible to appointment as police justice in a fourth class town will be the justice of the peace for the district in which such town is contained.  Third class cities are those ranging in population from fifteen hundred to ten thousand.  RCW 35.24.450 requires the mayor to appoint as police judge the regularly elected justice of the peace in all cities of the third class having a population of five thousand or more. 

            We are unable to locate any statute prescribing the qualifications for a police judge in third class cities under five thousand population.  The Washington Constitution, Article IV, section 10 authorizes, but does not require, that justices of the peace may be made police judges of incorporated towns.  Is the following language contained in the above quoted paragraph "* * * the justice of the peace for that district may be appointed the police judge of any such city or town within the district * * *" mandatory or permissive with respect to third class cities under five thousand in population? 

            We are of the opinion that the case of State ex rel. Purdin v. Gault, 56 Wash. 140, is decisive on this issue.  In that case the court held a similar 1903 statute  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] relating to the appointment of police judges in third class towns to be permissive rather than mandatory.  The court held that the appointment of a police judge by the mayor of a third class town was valid, notwithstanding the fact that such appointee was not a justice of the peace. 

            It would appear desirable for the mayors of all incorporated cities under five thousand in population to meet with the justice court district committee to make certain that the boundaries of justice court districts are mapped out in such a manner that the district justice of the peace can adequately accommodate the towns he will be expected to serve as police judge. 

            We are aware that a prior opinion of this office indicated that it is optional whether or not cities under five thousand should be included within justice court districts.  This opinion was written prior to the 1953 amendment to the act.  Insofar as such opinion conflicts with the conclusions herein, it is hereby overruled. 

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows: 

            Effective the second Monday of January, 1955:  (1) Incorporated towns under five thousand in population must be contained within a justice court district; (2) the police justice of a fourth class town must be the district justice of the peace of the district containing such town; (3) the mayor of a third class city under five thousand may appoint as police judge the district justice of the peace of the district in which such city is contained, or he may appoint some other person to serve as police judge, as he sees fit. 

Very truly yours, 

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General 

ANDY ENGEBRETSEN
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo