Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1964 No. 132 - December 22, 1964
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


COURTS ‑- COUNTY NOT UNDER 1961 JUSTICE COURT ACT ‑- JUSTICE OF THE PEACE ‑- AUTHORITY TO HOLD COURT ONLY IN PRECINCT ‑- COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ‑- AUTHORITY TO FILL VACANCY IN OFFICE OF JUSTICE OF THE PEACE.

(1) A justice of the peace is not authorized to hold court outside his precinct in a county which has not adopted the 1961 justice court act.

(2) The board of county commissioners of such a county may appoint a justice of the peace for a precinct which has never previously had a justice of the peace if a vacancy exists in such office.

(3) A justice of the peace may be elected and qualified in a rural precinct notwithstanding the fact that it only has five registered voters.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                               December 22, 1964

Honorable Patrick McCabe
Prosecuting Attorney
Garfield County
County Court House
Pomeroy, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 132

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on three questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Is a justice of the peace from a particular precinct authorized to hold court in any other precinct in the county in question where said county has not adopted the 1961 justice court act?

            (2) May the board of county commissioners of such a county appoint a justice of the peace for a precinct which has never previously had a justice of the peace?

            (3) May a justice of the peace be elected and qualified in a rural precinct which has only five registered voters?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer your first question in the negative, and your second and third questions in the affirmative for the reasons stated in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your first question is fully answered by an attorney general's opinion dated December 28, 1943, to the prosecuting attorney of Benton county.  In that opinion, a copy of which is enclosed, the attorney general cited statutes currently codified as RCW 3.20.050, 3.20.090 and 3.04.090, and concluded as follows:

            "It appears from the foregoing laws that the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace is coextensive with the limits of the county in which he serves,but that he can hold court only in the precinct for which he is elected."

            In regard to your second question, RCW 3.04.010 provides:

            "At each general election for the election of county and precinct officers, there shall be elected by the qualified electors of each election precinct one or more justices of the peace."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In an opinion dated December 9, 1943, to the Grays Harbor county prosecuting attorney, a copy of which is enclosed, the attorney general advised that a vacancy in the office of justice of the peace is to be filled by the appropriate board of county commissioners.  Accordingly, where a vacancy exists because of a failure to elect a justice of the peace as above provided for, it follows that the county commissioners may properly fill the vacancy by appointment.

            The statute last above quoted (RCW 3.04.010) also provides the answer to your third question.  One or more justices of the peace shall be elected by the qualified electors of each election precinct.  The statute contains no qualification as to this mandate because of the size or population of a particular election precinct.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo