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AGLO 1974 No. 36 - March 20, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- COURT HOUSES ‑- LOCATION OF COUNTY COURT HOUSE

A board of county commissioners, in the exercise of its responsibility under RCW 36.32.120(1) and related statutes to provide for the erection and maintenance of a county court house, may not locate that court house outside the territorial boundaries of the city which has been designated as the county seat.

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                                                                  March 20, 1974

Honorable S. Brooke Taylor
Prosecuting Attorney
Clallam County
Lincoln Building, Suite 205
Port Angeles, Washington 98362                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 36

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May a board of county commissioners, in the exercise of its responsibility under RCW 36.32.120(1) and related statutes to provide for the erection and maintenance of a county court house, locate that court house outside the territorial boundaries of the city which has been designated as the county seat?

            We answer this question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 36.32.120 provides, in material part, that:

            "The several boards of county commissioners shall:

            "(1) Provide for the erection and repairing of courthouses, jails, and other necessary public buildings for the use of the county; ". . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Accord, RCW 2.28.139, relating to the various superior courts of the several counties, and providing that:

            "The county in which the court is held shall furnish the court house, a jail or suitable place for confining prisoners, books for record, stationery, lights, wood, attendance, and other incidental expenses of the court house and court which are not paid by the United States."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Presumably, both your reference to the term "court house" and the legislature's references to this term in these statutes is to a building designed and constructed for the dual-purpose of providing court room facilities for the superior court and office and meeting facilities for the county commissioners and other county elective officials.  Accord, RCW 36.16.090, which provides that:

            "The boards of county commissioners of the several counties of the state shall provide a suitable furnished office for each of the county officers in their respective courthouses."

            Based upon this assumption it is our opinion that the court house may not be situated outside of the county seat, for otherwise it would not be able to fulfill the functions for which it was constructed.  For example, RCW 2.08.030, in addressing itself to the times and places in which superior courts are to hold session, states that:

            ". . .  They shall hold their sessions at the county seats of the several counties, respectively, . . ."

            Likewise, RCW 36.32.080 in providing for the conduct of sessions of the various boards of county commissioners, states that those boards

            ". . . shall hold regular sessions at the county seat commencing on the first Mondays of January, April, July and October, . . ."

            In addition, looking to the court house from the standpoint of the building in which the offices of the various county elective officials are to be located, there are several other statutes expressly requiring various county officers to maintain their offices at the county seat of the county they are serving.  For example, RCW 36.28.160 states that:

            "The sheriff must keep his office at the county seat of the county of which he is sheriff."

            See, also, RCW 36.27.070 dealing with the prosecuting attorney, which provides that:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "The prosecuting attorney of each county in the state of Washington must keep an office at the county seat of the county of which he is prosecuting attorney."1/

             Another such statute is RCW 36.23.080, which provides that:

            "The office of the clerk of the superior court shall be kept at the county seat of the county of which he is clerk."

            And, finally, RCW 36.29.170 provides that:

            "The county treasurer shall keep his office at the seat of justice of his county, and shall keep the same open for transaction of business during business hours; and he and his deputy are authorized to administer all oaths necessary in the discharge of the duties of his office."

            In view of all of the foregoing, we do not believe it legally permissible for a board of county commissioners, in constructing and maintaining a court house as required by RCW 36.32.120(1) and RCW 2.28.139, supra, to locate that facility outside of the territorial limits of the city which has been designated as the county seat.

            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/See, State ex rel. Becker v. Wiley, 16 Wn.2d 340, 351, 133 P.2d 507 (1943).

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