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November 30, 1972
Honorable Robert K. Leick
Stevenson, Washington 98648
Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 83 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent request for our opinion on the question of whether any portion of the revenues (fees, fines, forfeitures and penalties) assessed and collected by a justice court located in a county not operating under the 1969 justice court act, as amended (chapter 299, Laws of 1961) may be used to defray the costs of operation of such courts in the manner set forth in RCW 3.62.050.
In our opinion, this question is answerable in the affirmative to the extent set forth in our analysis.
RCW 3.62.020 provides that:
"All fees, fines, forfeitures and penalties assessed by district courts, except fines, forfeitures and penalties assessed and collected because of the violation of city ordinances, shall be collected and remitted by the clerk of the district court to the county treasurer at least monthly, together with a financial statement as required by the division of municipal corporations, noting the information necessary for crediting of such funds as required by law. The county treasurer shall place these moneys into the justice court suspense fund."
This section should be contrasted with RCW 3.62.040 which provides that:
"All costs, fines, forfeitures and penalties assessed and collected by justice courts because of violations of city ordinances shall be remitted at least monthly directly to the treasurer of the city wherein the violation occurred."
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
With respect to those revenues which are assessed and collected other than for the violation of city ordinances, the next statute to be noted is RCW 3.62.050 which provides:
"Quarterly, the county treasurer shall determine the total expenditures of the justice courts, including the cost of providing courtroom and office space and including the cost of probation and parole services and any personnel employment therefor. The treasurer shall then transfer an amount, equal to the total expenditures, from the justice court suspense fund to the current expense fund. The treasurer shall then, using the percentages established as in RCW 3.62.015 provided remit the appropriate amounts of the remaining balance in the justice court suspense fund to the state general fund and to the appropriate city treasurer(s) [[treasurer or treasurers]]. The final remaining balance of the justice court suspense fund shall then be remitted as specified by the county commissioners."
Thus it will be seen that under this statutory scheme, a portion of the revenues of a justice court to which these statutes apply has, by the legislature, been made available to defray the costs of operation of the courts. Clearly, these procedures are applicable to all justice courts located in counties which have come under the provisions of the 1961 justice court act (chapter 299, Laws of 1961), as amended ‑ for § 2 of this act (RCW 3.30.020) provides as follows:
"The provisions of chapters 3.30 through 3.74 [[chapters 3.30 through 3.74 RCW]]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 3]] 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."
Your question, however, is whether these provisions respecting the use and disposition of the subject revenues are also applicable to justice courts in counties which have not yet opted to come under this act.
Prior to the enactment of chapter 199, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., our answer to this question would have been in the negative, based upon the consistently enunciated position of this office that the provisions of the 1961 justice court act are applicable only to justice courts in counties which have come under its provisions. See, e.g., opinion dated March 21, 1967, to the prosecuting attorney of Klickitat county, copy enclosed, as well as our letter dated August 18, 1961, to the Washington State Association of County Commissioners, copy also enclosed. In accordance therewith we would then have advised you that insofar as other justice courts were concerned, you should look to the various provisions of the pre‑1961 statutes governing such courts for guidance in connection with such matters as jurisdiction, selection of justices of the peace, and (as here) the use and disposition of justice court revenues.
This, in our judgment, remains the correct analytical approach to be taken in a case such as this. However, by taking it one is now led, insofar as your immediate question is concerned, to the provisions of RCW 3.16.110, 3.16.130 and 3.16.160, as amended by chapter 199, supra, in 1969. Each of these statutes relates to the use and disposition of the revenues of justices of the peace in counties not operating under the 1961 justice court act ‑ but through its enactment of this 1969 amendatory act, the legislature added to each of them the following identical provisos:
". . . Provided, That all fees, fines, forfeitures and penalties collected or assessed by a justice court because of the violation of a state law shall be remitted as provided in chapter 3.62 RCW as now exists or is later amended."
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
By virtue of this enactment, the legislature has made the each above summarized sections of chapter 3.62 RCW applicable to justices of the peace not operating under the 1961 justice court act ‑ but, notably, only to the extent of the disposition of fees, fines, forfeitures and penalties collected or assessed ". . . because of the violation of a state law . . ." (Emphasis supplied.) In the case of these revenues, it is, therefore, now our opinion that RCW 3.62.050, supra, is presently applicable so as to authorize the use of a portion of such monies to defray the costs of operation of the collecting justice court in the manner set forth therein.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General