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AGO 1975 No. 19 - August 22, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington


In view of the amendment of RCW 42.14.100 by § 3, chapter 95, Laws of 1963, a deputy county sheriff is not required by state law to be a resident of the county which he serves.

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                                                                 August 22, 1975

Honorable Frank J. Woody
State Senator, 39th District
24228 47th
Woodinville, Washington 98043

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1975 No. 19

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Is a deputy county sheriff required by state law to be a resident of the county which he serves?

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


            Although recognizing that no specific statute dictated the result there reached, this office, in AGO 59-60 No. 29 [[to Wayne Roethler, Prosecuting Attorney, Cowlitz County on April 16, 1959]], copy enclosed,1/ concluded that a county deputy sheriffis required to be a resident of the county which he serves.  In so concluding we reasoned, in essence, as follows:

            (1) RCW 36.16.030 expressly requires that the county sheriff himself shall be elected ". . . from among the qualified voters of the county . . ."

            (2) RCW 36.38.020, in speaking of deputy sheriffs, states  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] that such officers, ". . . shall possess all the power, and may perform any of the duties, prescribed by law to be performed by the sheriff, . . ."

            (3) Therefore, because a deputy sheriff is empowered to perform all of the duties and functions of the sheriff, ipsofacto, he must have all of the qualifications of the sheriff ‑ including the residency requirement implicit in RCW 36.16.030,supra.  Accord,People ex rel. Andrus v. Champlain Auditors, 37 N.Y.Supp. 633, 16 Misc.Rep. 92 (1896).

            The basic object of your current request is to obtain our review and reconsideration of this 1959 opinion.  In so calling upon us you have particularly directed our attention to two recent cases from other jurisdictions in which residency requirements for certain categories of municipal employees have been struck down on constitutional grounds,Ector v. City of Torrance, 104 Cal.Rptr. 594 (1972); andDonnelly v. Manchester, 111 N.H. 50, 274 A.2d 789 (1971).  On the other hand you have also noted a case, Krzewinski v. Kugler, 338 F.Supp. 492 (D.N.J. 1972), in which a New Jersey statute requiring that police officers and firemen reside in the municipality which employs them was found to be constitutional despite the court's application of the more stringent "compelling state interest" test as to the validity of a state law under the federal equal protection clause.2/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            We need not, however, presently concern ourselves with the constitutionality of a state law imposing a residency requirement for county deputy sheriffs in order to answer your immediate inquiry.  Insofar as those deputies who are within the classified civil service system provided for by chapter 41.14 RCW are concerned, it appears to us that the legislature, by its passage of § 3, chapter 95, Laws of 1963, has removed from the law whatever general residency requirements may have previously existed with respect to their positions.  By this enactment the legislature amended the preexisting provisions of RCW 41.14.100, a part of the original civil service law approved by the voters several years earlier, in the following respects (using bill form for ease of understanding):

            "An applicant for a position of any kind under civil service, must be a citizen of the United States ((and an elector of the county in which he resides,)) who can read and write the English language ((and must have been a resident of the state for at least one year))."

            Furthermore, although this implied general qualification of nonresidents only applies to classified positions in a county sheriff's office,3/ its existence most certainly must be said  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] to be irreconcilable with the rationale which was employed in our earlier, 1959, opinion, even as to exempt deputies.  There is obviously no difference under RCW 36.38.020 between a classified and an exempt deputy sheriff.  Under this statute both ". . . shall possess all the power, and may perform any of the duties, prescribed by law to be performed by the sheriff . . ."  However the legislature, by its enactment of § 3, chapter 95, Laws of 1963, has seemingly determined that these things can be done by deputies who are not residents of the county which they serve as well as those who are.

            Therefore in summary, based upon this intervening 1963 legislation, we now believe it appropriate to depart from the views expressed in AGO 59-60 No. 29 and, at this time, answer your basic question in the negative.4/

             We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Dated April 15, 1959.

2/United States Constitution, Amendment 14.  As synopsized in a headnote appearing on p. 494 of 338 Fed. Supp., the essence of this ruling was as follows:

            "New Jersey tenure statute requiring police and firemen to be residents in municipality where they are employed, thereby requiring policeman or fireman to surrender his constitutional right to travel and migrate in exchange for his job, is justified by compelling state interests in promoting identity with community among police and firemen, in determining crime by presence of off-duty police in municipality, and in resulting chance associations and encounters which might lead to invaluable sources of information, develop community rapport and put an end to misunderstanding and intolerance."

3/See, RCW 41.14.070, which provides that:

            "The classified civil service and provisions of this chapter shall include all deputy sheriffs and other employees of the office of sheriff in each county except the following positions which are hereby designated the unclassified service:

            "(1) The county sheriff in every county;

            "(2) In each class A and class AA county; the positions of undersheriff, inspector, chief criminal deputy, chief civil deputy, jail superintendent, and one private secretary;

            "(3) In each county of the first class, second class, and third class; three principal positions comparable to undersheriff, a chief criminal deputy, and a chief civil deputy;

            "(4) In each of all other counties; one position to be appointed by the sheriff."

4/This is not to say, necessarily, that a local (county) civil service commission operating under chapter 41.14 RCW could not establish by regulation, on a case by case basis, some form of residency requirement for a particular position or positions ‑ rationally related to the specific job requirements of any such positions.  Accord, AGO 1972 No. 12 [[to Charles D. Kilbury, State Representative on June 13, 1972]], copy enclosed, in which we similarly opined with respect to the legality of locally established minimum age requirements for deputy sheriffs.  Any such requirement would, however, most likely be subject to the close scrutiny as to its constitutionality which the several cases which you have cited in your letter seem to call for ‑ as, also, would be the case with respect to any such requirement which might be attempted to be imposed by the sheriff himself with respect to his unclassified chief deputy or undersheriff, or the like.

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