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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Can the Attorney General’s Office give me personal legal advice or represent me in court?

The primary role of the Attorney General's Office is to provide legal representation to the State of Washington, its agencies, and state officials acting in their official capacities. The office is not authorized to advise or represent private citizens on personal legal matters. If you need help with a personal legal matter-such as filing a lawsuit, creating a will, or defending against a criminal charge-you may want to contact a private attorney. If you do not know an attorney in your area, the Washington State Bar Association's Web site provides information on attorney referral services for persons of varying income levels. You may also contact the Bar by calling 1-800-945-WSBA (9722).


Can I obtain an Attorney General’s Opinion on a legal matter?

The Attorney General’s Office provides formal written opinions about constitutional or legal questions when requested by statewide elected officials, members of the Legislature, appointed heads of state agencies, and county prosecuting attorneys. The office does not prepare opinions for private citizens, state agency employees, or employees of local agencies other than county prosecutors. An official opinion expresses the Attorney General’s position on a point of law. Opinions are considered persuasive but not binding by the courts. To review recent opinions issued by the office visit www.atg.wa.gov/AGOOpinions/default.aspx


Does the Attorney General’s Office investigate or prosecute alleged crimes?

The AGO has no original criminal jurisdiction.  Specifically, the Attorney General’s Office may only exercise criminal jurisdiction upon the written request of an elected county prosecutor, the governor, or a majority of the committee charged with the oversight of the organized crime intelligence unit.  Absent such a written request, the county prosecutors are the only ones with original criminal jurisdiction in Washington state.  Most criminal cases in Washington are investigated by local law enforcement agencies and prosecuted by city or county prosecutors.  If you wish to report a criminal matter please contact your local law enforcement or prosecutor's office.


I want to look up a state law. Where can I find it?

Many public libraries have copies of state statutes, known collectively as the Revised Code of Washington. Another easy way to research and obtain copies of state laws is to visit Access Washington’s Laws and Codes page at access.wa.gov/government/state_laws.aspx.


How can I request a public record from a government agency?

By requesting it from the government agency which has the document. You may be asked to put your request in writing, and there may be a charge for copying. Washington’s Open Records Act governs the inspection and copying of public records held by state and local government agencies. The law requires that its provisions be "liberally construed…to promote full access to public records" by members of the public."  However, the law also exempts certain records from disclosure. Members of the public who are denied access to a record held by a state agency (not a local agency)  may ask the Attorney General’s Office to review the decision. The office will independently review your request and the agency’s denial, and provide you with a written opinion as to whether the record you requested is exempt from disclosure. This review by the Attorney General is not binding on the agency or upon you.  For additional information about state open records and open meetings issues, visit the AGO's Public Records and Open Public Meetings site at:  www.atg.wa.gov/PublicRecords/default.aspx

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) governs the disclosure of documents held by U.S. government agencies.  A good source of information about FOIA is the National Freedom of Information Center, www.nfoic.org/foi-center.


I need a copy of a legal document. Where can I go to find it?

Depending on the type of document, there are several possibilities.

If the document is part of a judicial proceeding, you will need to visit the Court Clerk’s office in the county or federal jurisdiction where the case was filed.

Copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates may be available through the county health office where the event occurred, or through the state Department of Health at www.doh.wa.gov/EHSPHL/CHS/cert.htm.

For copies of federal documents, you will need to contact the federal agency that issued the document. To replace a lost Social Security card, for example, you should contact the Social Security Administration by visiting one of their local offices or their Web site. For a lost passport, contact the United States Department of State Passport Services Division at travel.state.gov/passport/lost/us/us_848.html.


Where can I file a complaint against a public official I believe is guilty of misconduct?

You may wish to contact the state Auditor’s Office, which reviews operations of state and local agencies to ensure that public funds are spent and accounted for in accordance with the law. If you are a state employee, you may wish to report suspected improper governmental activity under the state Auditor’s Whistleblower Program.



Where can I file a complaint against an attorney?

Grievances against lawyers who are licensed to practice law in Washington should be filed with the Washington State Bar Association. For information on whether a grievance might be appropriate in your situation, visit http://www.wsba.org/Licensing-and-Lawyer-Conduct/Discipline/File-a-Complaint-Against-a-Lawyer. To discuss filing a grievance, call 1-800-945-9722 or write to this address:

Washington State Bar Association
1325 Fourth Avenue Ste 600
Seattle, WA 98101-2539


Where can I file a complaint against a judge? 

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct considers complaints against judges and court commissioners in Washington. For additional information on filing a complaint, visit the Commission’s Web site at www.cjc.state.wa.us/Filing_complaint/filing_complaint.htm. You may also call the Commission at (360) 753-4585 or write to:

Commission on Judicial Conduct
PO Box 1817
Olympia, WA 98507


I have a complaint about a consumer product I recently bought from a business. Who should I contact about my problem? 

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division enforces the state’s Consumer Protection Act and may take legal action against businesses that engage in unfair or deceptive practices. Remedies sought may include consumer refunds and civil penalties. The division also assists consumers and businesses in resolving disputes by notifying businesses of written consumer complaints and mediating complaints.

For additional information on filing a complaint, and for tips on how to avoid consumer ripoffs, visit the Consumer Protection Division Web site at www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx. You may also call the Consumer Hotline at 1-800-551-4636 (1-800-833-6384 TTD). Include your U.S. mail address with any complaint.

You may also want to register a consumer complaint with the Better Business Bureau. For information on filing a complaint or on contacting a Better Business Bureau office near you, visit www.bbb.org.


I keep getting junk e-mail. What can I do about it?

In Washington State, it is illegal to send unsolicited commercial e-mail that advertises consumer products with false or misleading subject lines or return addresses. Such e-mail is commonly called "spam." If you’ve already received spam, notify your Internet Service Provider to block all future e-mail from the sender. To discourage such e-mail in the future, register your Washington e-mail address with the Washington Association of Internet Service Providers by visiting registry.waisp.org/newreg1.html.

If you continue to have problems, you may wish to consult a private attorney or file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. For further information about filing a complaint and protecting yourself from unwanted e-mail, visit the Attorney General’s website at http://www.atg.wa.gov/ConsumerIssues/JunkMail.aspx


I’m concerned about the quality of care a relative is receiving in a state-licensed facility for the elderly. Who should I talk to? 

Suspected abuse or neglect of residents in nursing homes, boarding homes and adult family homes should be reported to the state Department of Social and Health Services at 1-800-562-6078 or 1-866-ENDHARM (363-4276). If you suspect that a resident may be the victim of a criminal act, report it immediately to local police by dialing 911.


I’m a member of a profession going into business for myself. Where can I find out what licenses I need?

Depending on the nature of your business and profession, licenses issued by a variety of state, county or city agencies may be required. The state Department of Licensing Web site, www.dol.wa.gov/business/ provides extensive information on business and professional licensing requirements. You may also contact the Department by phone at (360) 664-1400.


Where can I apply for a marriage license?

From your county Auditor’s office.


Where can I apply for a license to carry a concealed pistol?

From the local police or sheriff’s department that has jurisdiction over the area in which you live.


I work with a charitable trust. Am I required to send a copy of my federal form 990, or 990-PF, to the Attorney General?
 
Federal law says that a copy of each informational tax return, form 990, 990-PF, 990-EZ, is to be sent to the Attorney General of the home state of the trust.  These can be mailed to the Office of the Attorney General, PO Box 40100, Olympia, WA 98504-0100.  State law also requires that many trusts register with the Secretary of State.  Information concerning this process is available at www.sos.wa.gov/charities.
 

 
I work with a nonprofit corporation, which is dissolving.  Am I supposed to send a plan of distribution of assets to the Attorney General?
 
If the corporation holds assets that are limited to a charitable use, state law requires that after certain debts and liabilities of the corporation are paid, the remaining charitable assets be transferred to another charitable organization with a similar purpose.  It also requires that a plan for the distribution of assets, identifying the charity that will receive them, be sent to the Attorney General before the assets are transferred or the corporation is dissolved.  There is no required form for this plan, and it can be as simple as a letter, provided that it identifies both the dissolving nonprofit and the charity that will receive the assets.  It can be mailed to the Office of the Attorney General, PO Box 40100, Olympia, WA 98504-0100.
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