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December 4, 1970
Honorable R. Ted Bottiger
State Representative, 29th District
8849 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, Washington 98444
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 153
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion as to whether there is any legal prohibition, statutory or otherwise, against the same person simultaneously serving as the police judge for a fourth class city and as a Democratic precinct committeeman.
You have not, in your letter, identified the specific statutory provision under which the particular fourth class city in question is operating its police court. As you know, it is possible for such a municipality to continue to operate its police court under the provisions of RCW 35.27.520, or, in the alternative, it is possible for a municipality to exercise one of the affirmative options provided for under the 1961 justice court act ‑ chapter 299, Laws of 1961. See, § 96 thereof with respect to these alternatives.
However, irrespective of which of the foregoing statutes the city in question is operating its police court under, our response to your inquiry is the same. First, we have found no statutory provision which would preclude a police judge, whether serving under the provisions of RCW 35.27.520 or under the provisions of the 1961 justice court act, from simultaneously serving as a precinct committeeman. And secondly, we can perceive of no basis for concluding that the doctrine of incompatible public offices would bar the same person from simultaneously serving in these two positions, primarily because we doubt that the position of a precinct committeeman would be regarded as a "public office" for the purposes of this common law rule. See AGO 59-60 No. 171 [[to Sam Smith, State Representative on December 30, 1960]], copy enclosed.
However, notwithstanding this absence of any apparent statutory or common law prohibition we would at least suggest the existence of a barrier on the basis of Canon 28 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. For your immediate ease of reference, this Canon reads as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"While entitled to entertain his personal views on political questions, and while not required to surrender his rights or opinions as a citizen, it is inevitable that suspicion of being warped by political bias will attach to a judge who becomes the active promoter of the interests of one political party as against another. He should avoid making political speeches, making or soliciting payment of assessments or contributions to party funds, the public endorsement of candidates for political office and participation in party conventions.
"He should neither accept nor retain a place on any party committee nor act as party leader, nor engage generally in partisan activities."
While it is not an appropriate function for this office to issue an opinion on the meaning or application of any of our Canons of Professional or Judicial Ethics, we would think that the existence of this Canon and its provisions are properly to be called to the attention of the individual in question, and he can then take the matter up with the state bar association or judicial council if he desires to pursue the matter further.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General