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AGO 1961 No. 75 - November 13, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


JUDGES ‑- RETIREMENT ALLOWANCE ‑- COMPUTATION OF.

Under the provisions of § 1, chapter 286, Laws of 1961, less than a full year's service is to be considered in computing the retirement allowance of a judge of the supreme or superior court.

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                                                               November 13, 1961

Honorable John Hancock
Prosecuting Attorney
Okanogan County
Hancock Building
Okanogan, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 75

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested the opinion of this office upon a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Under the provisions of § 1, chapter 286, Laws of 1961, is less than a full year's service to be considered in computing the retirement allowance of a judge of the supreme or superior court?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 1, chapter 286, Laws of 1961, provides as follows:

            "Any judge of the supreme or superior court of the state who shall leave judicial service at any time after having served as a judge of either of such courts for an aggregate of twelve years shall be eligible to a partial retirement pension in a percentage of the pension provided in chapter 2.12 RCW as determined by the proportion hisyears of judicial service bears to eighteen and shall receive the same upon attainment of age seventy, or eighteen years after the commencement of such judicial service, whichever shall occur first."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Applying the statute to a hypothetical case, let us assume that a judge of the superior court retires after 12 years, 5 months and 6 days of judicial service.  The question presented then is whether  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the phrase "years of judicial service" limits the computation for retirement pay purposes to twelve years or whether the 5 months and 6 days served in excess of 12 years is also to be a factor in the computation.

            An almost identical situation confronted the United States Court of Claims inCooper v. United States, 81 F.Supp. 734 (1949).  The plaintiff, a United States district judge for the District Court of Puerto Rico, retired under the provisions of Title 28 U.S.C.A. § 375g [now § 373], after having served 13 years, 7 months and 11 days.

            The section just cited provided that a district judge of a territorial court who retired after having served for a period or periods aggregating ten years or more was entitled to a pension of "a sum equal to such proportion of the salary received by such justice or judge at the date of such retirement as the total of his aggregate years of service bears to the period of sixteen years."

            Plaintiff's retirement pay was computed upon the basis of 13/16 of the salary he received at the time of his retirement.  Plaintiff brought suit contending that such computation should have included the 7 months and 11 days he had served beyond 13 years.  At page 736 of the opinion, the court upheld plaintiff's contention in the following language:

            "Since we can think of no reason why Congress should have intended to limit the period served by such judges to complete years of service, and to have intended to eliminate the fractional part of a year, we hold that they used the expression 'years of service' as synonymous with 'period of service.'"

            In reaching its conclusion, the court referred to various other federal retirement acts governing different groups of public employees and noted that in two instances Congress had limited retirement pay to complete years of service but in both cases it had expressly used the term "complete years."  The absence of such an express limitation in the act under consideration led the court to conclude that it was not the intent of Congress to limit the retirement pay of district judges to complete years of service.

            The rationale of theCooper case, supra, is particularly cogent in the instant situation since we need not venture beyond the confines of chapter 286 to discover the legislative intent.  InDeGrief v. Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 11, 297 P. (2d) 940 (1956), our court set forth a rule of statutory construction which when applied here is  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] determinative of the question presented.  The court said:

            "'It is too well-established to need citation of authority that a court may not place a narrow, literal, and technical construction upon a part only of a statute and ignore other relevant parts.  In the process of construction, the intention of the lawmakers must be extracted from a consideration ofall of the provisions of the act.'  In re Cress, 13 Wn. (2d) 7, 123 P. (2d) 767."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            See, also,In Re Bracken's Estate, 56 Wn. (2d) 17, 351 P. (2d) 151 (1960).

            Section 2, chapter 286, Laws of 1961, provides as follows:

            "In the event any judge of the supreme or superior court of the state serves more than eighteen years in the aggregate as computed under RCW 2.12.010, he shall receive in addition to any other pension benefits to which he may be entitled under chapter 2.12 RCW, an additional pension benefit based upon one‑eighteenth of his salaryfor each year of full service after eighteen years, provided his total pension shall not exceed seventy-five percent of the monthly salary he was receiving as a judge at the time of his retirement."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is obvious from § 2,supra, that when the legislature intended to limit retirement pay to a full year's service it expressly so provided.  There being no such express limitation in § 1, supra, it follows that the legislature must not have intended to restrict the retirement pay provided for therein to a full year's service.

            It is to be finally noted that the result reached in the Cooper case, supra, is in accord with the traditional judicial holding that pension statutes are entitled to a liberal construction in favor of those intended to be benefited thereby.  See, 3 Sutherland, Statutory Construction, § 7209, p. 434.

            Accordingly we conclude that the phrase "years of judicial service" as used in § 1, chapter 286, Laws of 1961, should be construed as encompassing a fractional part of a year.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

DUANE S. STOOKEY
Assistant Attorney General

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