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About Opinions Issued by the Washington Attorney General

Review the opinions index
If you would prefer to review a pdf of all opinions 1975-2010 by topic, click here

Join the List:  The Attorney General's Office shares notice of new formal attorney general opinion requests through our subscriber service, GovDelivery.com.

You may sign in and join the "AGO Opinions" List to receive e-mails of these pending requests and notice of completed Attorney General’s Opinions.

View and Comment on Pending AG Opinion Requests:  You may view pending requests on our Web site along with directions on how and when you may provide comment.

What is an Attorney General Opinion?

An Attorney General Opinion is a statement of the Attorney General’s official views on a legal question relating to a public officer’s duties. An Attorney General Opinion, also called a “formal  opinion”, thus represents the Attorney General’s official position on a point of law.

An Attorney General Opinion is issued at the request of someone authorized to request such an opinion.

Attorney General Opinions are researched much like opinions issued by appellate courts and require a similar analytical and drafting effort. Attorney General Opinions are not binding on the courts, but they are usually given careful consideration and respect.

As an alternative to issuing a “formal opinion”, a request for an Attorney General Opinion may be answered by an informal letter, sometimes called an “informal opinion”.

Who is entitled to request an Attorney General Opinion?

  • Members of the Washington State Legislature.
  • Statewide elected officials.
  • Appointed heads of state agencies, boards, or commissions.
  • County prosecuting attorneys.

Who is not entitled to an Attorney General Opinion?

  • Private citizens.
  • Federal officers and employees.
  • Officers and employees of county, municipal, and other local governments (except county prosecutors).
  • State agency employees.

What questions are appropriate for an Attorney General Opinion?

The most appropriate use for an Attorney General Opinion is to clarify the interpretation of statutes whose meaning is in dispute or doubt, or which appear to be inconsistent with other state laws. Questions concerning the validity of existing or proposed regulations (WACS) are also appropriate.

What questions are not appropriate for an Attorney General Opinion?

  • Questions relating to issues in litigation.
  • Questions relating to disputes between private persons.
  • Questions seeking to resolve issues of fact or of policy rather than questions of law.
  • Questions about the validity of a current state statute (questions about the validity of a proposed bill or law pending in the Legislature are acceptable).
  • Questions unrelated to the duties and responsibilities of the officer making the request, or questions asked on behalf of persons not entitled to request an Attorney General’s Opinion.
  • Questions seeking interpretation of purely federal or purely local laws.

How is an Attorney General Opinion requested?

An authorized person submits a written request to the Attorney General that includes:

  • An explanation of why the opinion is needed, how it relates to the requester’s duties, and the context in which the issue arises;
  • any information that may be helpful, including relevant research, statutes, cases, prior opinions, agency rules, and legal memoranda; and
  • a notation of any special needs for expedited response to the request (request for an expedited response will be considered and accommodated to the extent feasible).

Are there alternatives to issuing formal opinions?

Yes. The office may issue an “informal opinion”, which can be produced more quickly and efficiently.

Informal opinions are letters that present the considered legal analysis of the Assistant Attorneys General who write them. They also often reflect a consensus of the legal analysis of other Attorney General staff involved in preparing the informal opinion, but are not personally approved by the Attorney General.

The majority of legal advice given by the Attorney General’s Office in response to requests for opinions consists of informal opinions. Formal opinions typically are reserved for highly important issues of broad public significance.

Informal opinions should not be described or cited as “Attorney General Opinions”, since only formal opinions represent the official view of the Attorney General. An informal opinion should be cited as a letter or memorandum of the attorney who signed the opinion, with a notation of the date and the addressee.

How are opinion requests processed by the Office of Attorney General?

The Attorney General first determines whether an Attorney General Opinion is the appropriate form of response. A request may be declined if it does not meet the guidelines for an opinion, may be referred to a staff attorney for consultation with the requester or the response may take the form of an informal letter instead of an Attorney General Opinion.

Formal opinions involve a lengthy process of research and review. Each formal opinion is carefully drafted by the assigned attorney, reviewed by the Opinions Editor, at least one other Assistant Attorney General and, finally, the Attorney General. During the process, the opinion may be revised several times.

The Attorney General's Office publishes notice of pending formal opinion requests in the Washington State Register and on our Web site along with directions on how and when you may provide comment.  The Attorney General's Office also shares notice of new formal attorney general opinion requests through our subscriber service, GovDelivery.com.  You may sign in and join the "AGO Opinions" List to receive e-mails of pending requests as well as notice of completed Attorney General’s Opinions.

 

The goal is to process each formal opinion within 90 days of the request, however the time varies depending upon the complexity of the opinion and workload demands. Informal responses are usually completed in 60 days or less.

Where can I find copies of Attorney General Opinions?

The initial requester will receive the original opinion in letter form. Once received, formal opinions are made available to the public. Formal opinions are also bound and published annually by the Attorney General’s Office.

Copies of opinions may be requested by calling the Attorney General’s Office at 360-586-4218 or by letter addressed to:

The Attorney General’s Office
Attn: Opinions Editor
PO Box 40100
Olympia, Washington 98504-0100

Copies of formal opinions filed since 1949 are also available on the Attorney General’s Web site.

Recently filed Supreme Court opinions and Appellate Court opinions (slip opinions) are available at: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions.

Are hard copies of this information available?

Yes, the information above is available in an “About AGO Opinion” brochure available from the Attorney General’s Office.

For copies contact:
The Attorney General’s Office
Attn: Opinions Editor
PO Box 40100
Olympia, Washington 98504-0100

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