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AGLO 1974 No. 29 - March 08, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COURTS ‑- DISTRICT ‑- JUSTICE ‑- ALLOCATION OF DISTRICT COURT JUDGES

A county with population of 46,000, statutorily authorized two district court judges pursuant to RCW 3.34.010, may not provide within its county districting plan for one judicial district with one full-time and one part-time judge; it may, however, establish two justice court districts, one containing approximately 32,000 inhabitants and the other 14,000 inhabitants, and assign a full-time judge to the former and a part-time judge to the latter.

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                                                                   March 8, 1974

Honorable Elmer Jastad
State Representative, 20th District
P.O. Box 67
Morton, Washington 98356                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 29

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on the following three questions regarding district justice courts in a county operating under the 1961 justice court act, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, as amended:

            "1. May a county with a population of 46,000, statutorily authorized two judges pursuant to RCW 3.34.010, provide within its county districting plan for one judicial district with one full-time and one part-time judge in light of the mandate of RCW 3.34.020?

            "2. May a county with a population of 46,000, statutorily authorized two judges pursuant to RCW 3.34.010, provide within its county districting plan for two judicial districts, one full-time and one part-time, if District 'A' would contain approximately 32,000 people and District 'B' would contain approximately 14,000 people?

            "3. May a county with a population of 46,000, statutorily authorized two judges pursuant to RCW 3.34.010, still provide within its districting plan for one judicial district with one full-time judge under RCW 3.34.030, where an incorporated municipality in the county having a population of 10,000 has elected to retain its municipal court system under RCW 3.50?"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer your first question in the negative and your second and third questions in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The 1961 justice court act, as you know, is mandatorily applicable to class AA and class A counties, and optionally applicable to all others at the discretion of their respective legislative authorities.  See, RCW 3.30.020.  Your request involves a county of the fourth class with a population of 46,000 inhabitants which has, by prior action of its board of county commissioners, elected to bring its justice courts within the coverage of this law.

            Question (1):

            Under the provisions of RCW 3.34.010, which prescribes the number of justices of the peace to be elected in each county governed by the act, the county you have described has been allocated two such justices.  Your first question is whether both of these justices can be allocated to a single county-wide justice court district with one serving full time and the other on a part-time basis.

            Under RCW 3.38.050, each county coming under the justice court act is to be made into one or more justice court districts in accordance with the following standards:

            "(1) Every part of the county shall be in some justice court district.

            "(2) The whole county may constitute one justice court district.

            "(3) There shall not be more justice court districts than there are justices of the peace authorized for the county.

            "(4) No justice court district boundary shall intersect the boundary of an election precinct.

            "(5) No city shall lie in more than one justice court district.

            "(6) Whenever a county is divided into more than one justice court district,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] each district shall be so established as best to serve the convenience of the people of such district, considering the distances which must be traveled by parties and witnesses in going to and from the court and any natural barriers which may obstruct such travel."

            Thus, it would theoretically be possible to establish a single county-wide justice court district in your county ‑ instead of having two separate districts with one for each of the county's two authorized justices.  But because of certain other statutes it would not be possible, in our opinion, for that district to be served by one full-time and one part-time district court judge.

            We have reference to RCW 3.34.020 and 3.34.040 which provide, respectively, as follows, insofar as is here material.

            RCW 3.34.020:

            "In each justice court district having a population of forty thousand or more but less than sixty thousand, there shall be elected one full time justice of the peace; in each justice court district having a population of sixty thousand but less than one hundred twenty-five thousand, there shall be elected two full time justices: . . .  Provided further, That the county commissioners may by resolution make a part time position a full time office if the district's population is not more than ten thousand less than the number required by this section for a full time justice of the peace: . . ."

            RCW 3.34.040:

            "Justices of the peace serving districts having a population of forty thousand or more persons, and justices receiving a salary greater than nine thousand dollars for serving as a justice, shall be deemed full time justices and shall devote all of their time to the office and shall not engage in the practice of law.  Other justices shall devote sufficient time to the  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] office to properly fulfill the duties thereof and may engage in other occupations but such justice shall not use the office or supplies furnished by the judicial district for his private business but shall maintain a separate office for his private business nor shall he use the services of any clerk or secretary paid for by the county for his private business."

            The problem, of course, is that the single county-wide district envisioned by your first question would have a population in excess of forty thousand persons, and thus any justices serving it would be required to serve full time.  By reason of the recent amendment to RCW 3.34.020, supra, in § 2, chapter 14, Laws of 1973, 1st Ex. Sess. (as discussed in AGLO 1973 No. 64 [[to Anton J. Miller, Prosecuting Attorney, Pacific County on June 15, 1973 an Informal Opinion AIR-73564]], copy enclosed), it is possible that both of the justices allotted to your county could be designated as full-time justices in such a district.  But because of the requirement of RCW 3.34.040, supra, it would not be possible for one of them to serve full time and the other part time.

            Question (2):

            If, on the other hand, the county you have described were to be divided into two separate justice court districts, one having a population of approximately thirty-two thousand inhabitants and the other having a population of approximately fourteen thousand inhabitants, the larger of these two districts would be entitled to a full-time district court judge in accordance with the proviso in RCW 3.34.020, supra, which permits the county commissioners by resolution to make a part-time position a full-time office if the district's population is not more than ten thousand less than the number (forty thousand) required for a full-time justice of the peace.  At the same time, the other district contemplated by this question could be served by a part-time district court judge because its population would then be less than the forty thousand minimum prescribed by RCW 3.34.040, supra.

            Question (3):

            This question involves RCW 3.34.030 which provides that:

            "Notwithstanding the limitations of RCW 3.34.010 and 3.34.020 in any district having more than one justice of the peace, if any city or town elects to select under  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] the provisions of chapter 3.50 a person other than a justice of the peace to serve as municipal judge, the board of county commissioners may reduce the number of justices of the peace required for the county and district by one for each one hundred and fifty thousand persons or fraction thereof residing in all such municipalities, electing to select a municipal judge who is not also a justice of the peace:  Provided, That in no case shall the number of justices of the peace in any county be less than one for each one hundred thousand persons or major fraction thereof in such county, nor shall the number of justices of the peace in any district be less than one for each one hundred and fifty thousand persons or major fraction thereof."

            Under the circumstances described in your third question,1/ this statute authorizes the county commissioners to reduce the number of justices of the peace required for the county and district by one.  Therefore it would be permissible, although not mandatory, in such a case for the county commissioners of your county, by reducing the number of justices of the peace to be elected in response to the city's election to operate its municipal court system under chapter 3.50 RCW, to provide for the election of a single, full-time district court judge to serve a single justice court district encompassing the entire county.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Repeated for ease of reference, this question asks:

            "3. May a county with a population of 46,000, statutorily authorized two judges pursuant to RCW 3.34.010, still provide within its districting plan for one judicial district with one full-time judge under RCW 3.34.030, where an incorporated municipality in the county having a population of 10,000 has elected to retain its municipal court system under RCW 3.50?"

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