OLYMPIA — The Attorney General’s Office today released an informal opinion that addresses the most time-sensitive part of a four-part request made by Interim Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Gerald Fuller.
The opinion addresses the process for filling the vacancy in the Grays Harbor County Prosecutor’s office caused by the retirement of former prosecutor, Stew Menefee, in September.
The opinion concludes that the Constitution requires the Grays Harbor County Commissioners to select an appointee from a list of three candidates nominated by the County Central Committee of the same political party as the person who vacated the position. Article II, section 15 of the Constitution clearly states that “the person appointed to fill the vacancy must be from . . . the same political party as the [person] whose office has been vacated, and shall be one of three persons who shall be nominated by the county central committee of that party.”
How and when the Attorney General issues opinions
The Washington Attorney General, as the chief law officer of the state, provides official opinions on questions of law at the request of designated public officials, such as legislators and prosecutors, on issues arising in the course of their duties.
On Dec. 12, Interim Grays Harbor County Prosecutor, Gerald Fuller, requested an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General related to the process for filling vacancies.
Menefee retired on Sept. 30, 2013. He was an elected Democrat, whose term expires on Dec. 31, 2014. The County Commission appointed Fuller to serve as interim prosecutor.
The Grays Harbor Democratic Party submitted to the Grays Harbor County Commission a list of three nominees to fill the vacancy on Oct. 4, 2013.
On Oct. 24, the county commission selected Montesano attorney Vini Samuel. Samuel formally declined the position. The party then requested the governor make the appointment from the two remaining nominees.
The chair of the County Commission announced on Dec. 9 that the party must submit a new list of nominees within 10 days or the Commission would select its own Democratic nominee outside the list provided by the party.
Fuller submitted a request for an Attorney General’s opinion on Thursday, December 12, asking:
- Is the County board of Commissioners legally and constitutionally entitled to demand a new list of nominees from the local Democratic Party and, if so, what is the source of that authority?
- With the expiration of 60 days from the date of Mr. Menefee’s retirement and Ms. Samuel’s declining the board’s Oct. 24 appointment, does the appointment fall to the governor under article II, section 15 of the Washington Constitution, or some other provision of Washington law?
- May the County Commissioners pick an individual not on a list supplied by the local county Democratic Party?
- If the County Commissioners appoint a person whose name is not on a list submitted by the county Democratic Party, will such a person appointed have legal authority to act as prosecuting attorney?
What is being released today
Because the commission stated it would select its own candidate if the party did not provide a new list within 10 days of Dec. 9, the Attorney General’s Office is releasing an informal opinion today answering the third question to provide relevant information to county officials before the stated day of action.
The Attorney General’s Office will designate the rest of the request as a formal attorney general’s opinion. Formal opinions take more time and require more rigorous review.
What the informal opinion concludes
In response to Fuller’s question, the Attorney General’s Office informal opinion states that the Grays Harbor County Commissioners may not appoint an individual who is not on the list provided by the local Democratic Party to serve as Grays Harbor County Prosecutor.
The opinion points to Washington’s Constitution, which states that when a vacancy occurs in a partisan, county elective office, the county legislative authority must fill the vacancy with a person of the same political party as the person who vacated the position. The Constitution further says the nominee must be chosen from a list of three provided to the commission by the county political party.
There are no exceptions to these requirements.
The Attorney General’s Office hopes that the opinion will provide helpful guidance to the Grays Harbor County Commission as it seeks to abide by the law in carrying out this important duty.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman points out that this year’s election should matter to voters because these local races can have a huge impact on them and their communities.
“The outcome of this year’s election affects the quality of your schools, your roads, your ports and fire districts, and all kinds of local services. This election will affect your family in a very direct way, so I encourage all Washington voters to vote in this election, and I encourage you to study the Voters’ Pamphlet as you fill out your ballot so you can make an educated and informed choice.”
A few factoids about this year’s Voters’ Pamphlet:
• The Elections Division is mailing it to 3.2 million households throughout Washington. There is no opt-out list for the Voters’ Pamphlet. It is delivered to every household in the state as required by the Washington Constitution. Mailing to all households is the most cost-effective way to deliver it.
• It’s printed in 18 regional editions, including in Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish (as required by federal law). Voters in Adams, Franklin and Yakima counties receive bilingual (English/Spanish) editions.
• Accessible audio and text formats are available for voters who are blind or have limited vision. Go here if you need the Voters’ Pamphlet as a plain text, audio or Word document file.
• Additional copies of the printed Voters’ Pamphlet are available in County Auditor offices, libraries, post offices, long-term care centers and disability service centers.
• The average number of pages, not counting the bilingual versions, is only 32, making it smaller than average for an odd-year General Election. And it’s much smaller than last year’s pamphlet, which typically ranged between 120 and 168 pages, with two bilingual editions carrying a whopping 240 pages or more.
• Our office does not fact-check our correct statements or arguments by candidates or ballot measure committees. They are printed as submitted.
You can also study the candidates and ballot measures on this fall’s ballot by viewing the online Voters’ Guide. In addition, our Elections Division and TVW have teamed up to offer the 2013 Video Voters Guide, which provides pro and con arguments on I-517 and I-522.
The Voters’ Pamphlet cover features images from the Grand Coulee to Grunge exhibit shown in the Secretary of State’s front office in the Legislative Building on Olympia’s Capitol Campus. (Come check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.) The back cover of the Voters’ Pamphlet includes the artwork by Amy Shell, the winner of this year’s Kids’ Art Contest. Amy is now a sixth-grader attending Highland Middle School in Bellevue.