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April 13, 1970
Honorable Robert K. Leick
Stevenson, Washington 98648
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 60
This is written in response to your recent request for our opinion on the procedure to be followed by a seventh class county in adopting and implementing the provisions of the 1961 justice court act ‑ chapter 299, Laws of 1961. We paraphrase your question as follows:
Do all of the provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74 RCW, including RCW 3.38.020, apply to a seventh class county which elects to come under the 1961 justice court act as provided for in RCW 3.30.020?
We answer this question in the affirmative for the reasons set forth below.
By its enactment of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, the legislature provided for a comprehensive, new justice court system having mandatory application to class AA and class A counties ‑ and optional application to all others. See, § 2, chapter 299, Laws of 1961 (RCW 3.30.020), which reads as follows:
"The provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74 shall apply to class AA and class A counties: Provided, That any city having a population of more than five hundred thousand may by resolution of its legislative body elect to continue to operate a municipal court pursuant to the provisions of chapter 35.20 [[chapter 35.20 RCW]], as if chapters 3.30 through 3.74 had never been enacted: Provided further, That if a city elects to continue its municipal court pursuant to this section, the number of justices of the peace allocated to the county in RCW 3.34.010 shall be reduced by two and the number of full time justices of the peace allocated by RCW 3.34.020 to the district in which the city is situated shall also be reduced by two. The provisions of [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] chapters 3.30 through 3.74 may be made applicable to any county of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth class upon a majority vote of its board of county commissioners." (Emphasis supplied.)
Thus, clearly, the provisions of the act1/ may be made applicable to a seventh class county ‑ such as Skamania county2/ - through the action of its board of county commissioners. Accord, AGO 63-64 No. 54 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Klickitat County on September 9, 1963]], copy enclosed, in which we observed of the legislature's purpose and intent, as determined from a reading of the act in its entirety, that,
". . . the legislature favored application of the act in any county which voluntarily assented to its provisions." (Emphasis supplied.)
Once a board of county commissioners has taken the appropriate action to bring its county under the provisions of the act, a justice court districting committee (the composition of which is provided for in RCW 3.38.010)3/ is to prepare a districting plan for the county. This plan is to be submitted for the consideration of the county commissioners and acted upon by them as provided for in RCW 3.38.030,4/ which states:
"Upon receipt of the justice court districting plan, the county commissioners shall hold a public hearing, pursuant to the provisions of RCW 36.32.120 (7), as now or hereafter amended. At the hearing, anyone interested in the plan may attend [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] and be heard as to the convenience which will be afforded to the public by the plan, and as to any other matters pertaining thereto. If the commissioners find that the plan proposed by the districting committee conforms to the standards set forth in chapters 3.30 through 3.74 and is conducive to the best interests and welfare of the county, as a whole it may adopt such plan. If the commissioners find that such plan does not conform to the standards as provided in chapters 3.30 through 3.74, they may modify, revise or amend the plan and adopt such amended or revised plan as the county's justice court districting plan. The plan decided upon shall be adopted by the county commissioners not later than six months after the classification of the county as class A or the adoption of the elective resolution."5/ (Emphasis supplied.)
As a general proposition, it is clear from a reading of the act as a whole that once a county of the first through ninth class has taken the necessary action (under RCW 3.30.020, supra) to bring itself under "the provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74 . . ." (i.e., "this act," as was stated in the session law form of § 2, chapter 299, Laws of 1961), then all of the provisions of the act are applicable to such county ‑ in the same manner that they are applicable to class AA and class A counties, automatically, by virtue of the mandate contained in the first sentence of the section. There simply is no basis in the act for reaching any other conclusion on this point.6/ However, in requesting our opinion on the question set forth at the outset of this letter, you have pointed out an apparent inconsistency between this general proposition and the following text of RCW 3.38.020:
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
"Upon the classification of any county as a class A county, or upon the adoption of a resolution by majority vote of the board of county commissioners of any county of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth or ninth class electing to make the provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74 applicable to their county, the justice court districting committee shall become activated and shall meet at the call of the prosecuting attorney to prepare a plan for the districting of the county into one or more justice court districts in accordance with the provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74, which plan shall include the following:
"(1) The boundaries of each justice court district proposed to be established;
"(2) The number of justices to be elected in each justice court district;
"(3) The location of the central office, courtrooms and records of each court;
"(4) The other places in the justice court district, if any, where the court shall sit;
"(5) The number and location of justice court commissioners to be authorized, if any;
"(6) The departments, if any, into which each justice court shall be initially organized, including municipal departments provided for in chapter 3.46 [[chapter 3.46 RCW]];
"(7) The name of each justice court district; and
"(8) The allocation of the time and allocation of salary of each justice who will serve part time in a municipal department.
"Not later than three months after the classification of the county as class A or the adoption of the elective resolution by the county commissioners, the plan shall be transmitted to the county commissioners."
[[Orig. Op. Page 5]]
Your concern relates to the omission of any reference to seventh class counties in this section ‑ which, of course, covers a part of the procedure for the formation of justice court districts by the board of county commissioners of the subject county following its initial determination to bring the county's justice court system under the act. However, it is our opinion that this section should be regarded as being equally as applicable to a seventh class county as it is to any of the other classes which are expressly enumerated therein.
RCW 3.38.020 codifies § 26, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, as amended by § 1, chapter 110, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. As originally enacted, the opening clause of this section required each county justice court districting committee (as provided for in § 25 ‑ RCW 3.38.010) to meet upon the call of the prosecuting attorney to prepare the districting plan for its county "on or before December 1, 1961." Accordingly, it was arguable that a first through ninth class county whose board of county commissioners had not adopted the provisions of the act prior to December 1, 1961, was thereafter powerless to do so. Because of this "time schedule" provision, we were asked, in AGO 63-64 No. 54 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Klickitat County on September 9, 1963]], supra, to consider this question ‑ and we specifically met and rejected the foregoing argument by saying:
"We do not see any legislative intent that the option given in § 2 must be exercised in time to use the time schedule for districting in §§ 26 and 27. The time schedule was part of the original bill, which contemplated that all justice courts in every county should change to the new system in January, 1963. The provisions excluding less populous counties first appeared in the substitute bill which was reported to both houses by a free conference committee on the last day of the legislative session. See, Senate Journal, 1961, p. 1142, and following; House Journal, 1961, p. 1240, and following. The dates prescribed in the original bill for districting seem designed to ensure an orderly transition in counties where new justices of the peace were to be elected in November, 1962, to take office in January, 1963. In our opinion, to hold that the time schedule for districting limits the [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] time in which the option to come under the act may be exercised would be to place undue emphasis on the districting provisions. The different sections of a statute must be construed in relation to the entire act, and in light of the purpose and objective of the act, so as to produce a harmonious whole. Crippen v. Pulliam, 161 Wash. Dec. 728 (1963); State ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Dept. of Public Ser., 1 Wn.2d 102, 95 P.2d 1007 (1939). The purpose of the 1961 justice court act was to improve the quality of our inferior courts. See, Dean George Neff Steven's note, 36 Wash. Law Rev. 297, 298. Reading the act as a whole and considering its purpose, we conclude that the option provision in § 2 was intended to be continuing, and that the legislature favored application of the act in any county which voluntarily assented to its provisions."
Nevertheless, following the issuance of this opinion it was apparently felt appropriate by the legislature to act further so as to remove any legal cloud which might still be said to exist with respect to the viability of those justice courts established in reliance upon our opinion.7/ Accordingly, chapter 110, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., was adopted ‑ and in § 4 thereof the legislature provided as follows:
"Any prior action by the county commissioners of any county of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth class to make the provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74 applicable to their county and the organization of any justice court as a result thereof, and all other things and proceedings done or taken by such county or by their respective officers acting under or in pursuance to such prior action and organization are hereby declared legal and valid and of full force and effect."
[[Orig. Op. Page 7]]
In addition, the bothersome "time table" provision of § 26 of the original 1961 act was deleted and replaced by the language now appearing in RCW 3.38.020, supra ‑ sans mention of seventh class counties, as you have now pointed out with an appropriate degree of discomfiture.
Upon receiving your request, we, too, were somewhat puzzled by this omission and so proceeded to search the journals of the 1965 legislative session to determine whether any explanation therefor could be found in the history of the amendatory bill (Senate Bill No. 389) which became chapter 110, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. No explanation of this matter, however, could be found from this research source ‑ and, quite frankly, we can conceive of no explanation in any event which would be at all reasonable.
Accordingly, our inclination is to regard the omission of any reference to a seventh class county in § 1, chapter 110, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., supra, as a scrivener's or drafter's error ‑ and not as any manifestation of legislative intent to treat seventh class counties any differently than other classes of counties with respect to (a) their basic authority to adopt the provisions of the 1961 justice court act; and (b) the implementing procedures to be followed in putting the act into effect. In so concluding, we give effect to what we discern to be the essential spirit of the legislation ‑ much as did our supreme court in the recent case of Alderwood Water Dist. v. Pope & Talbot, 62 Wn.2d 319, 321, 382 P.2d 639 (1963), wherein the court (speaking of another statute) said:
"On numerous occasions this court has indicated that a statute should be construed as a whole in order to ascertain legislative purpose, and thus avoid unlikely, strained or absurd consequences which could result from a literal reading. That the spirit or the purpose of legislation should prevail over the express but inept language is an ancient adage of the law. Eyston v. Studd (England, 1574), 2 Plowden 460, 464:
"'. . . intent of statutes is more to be regarded and pursued than the precise letter of them, for oftentimes things, which are within the words of statutes, are out of the purview of them, which purview extends no further than the intent of the makers of the act, and the best way to construe an act [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] of Parliament is according to the intent rather than according to the words. . . .'"
As we see it, to take any other approach to the question than to regard the seventh class county omission as an inadvertent drafter's error would lead to an absurdity; namely, a clear existence of authority in the board of county commissioners of a seventh class county to adopt the provisions of the 1961 justice court system on the one hand ‑ but with a gap in the procedures for putting the system into operation, on the other. We simply do not believe that this is what the legislature intended would be the case with respect to a county of this class. Therefore, to avoid this absurdity and to give full meaning and effect to the legislature's clearly expressed intent to allow a seventh class county to adopt and operate under the provisions of the 1961 justice court act, we conclude (in direct answer to your question) that RCW 3.38.020, as amended by § 1, chapter 110, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., supra, should be read as including counties of the seventh class along with all of the other classes of counties enumerated therein.
We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/Chapters 3.30 through 3.74 RCW, to which reference is made in the underscored portion of the quoted statute, codify the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, in its entirety.
2/See, RCW 36.13.010 with respect to the classification of counties by population.
3/Codifying § 25, chapter 299, Laws of 1961.
4/Section 27, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, as amended by § 2, chapter 110, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess.
5/See, also, RCW 3.38.031 ‑ 3.38.060.
6/Conversely, of course, until and unless the board of county commissioners of a first through ninth class county has taken the requisite action to bring the county under the provisions of the act, none of its provisions relating to the operation of justice courts, their jurisdiction and procedures, etc., are applicable to the inferior courts of such county. Accord, AGO 63-64 No. 67 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Chelan County on October 21, 1963]], copy enclosed.
7/I.e., in counties which had proceeded to cover themselves under the act by action taken after December 1, 1961.