WASHINGTON COUNTY (UTAH). COUNTY COURT
Agency History #2719
Washington County was established with the creation of the county by the territorial legislature in 1852 ("An Act Defining the Boundaries of Counties" sec. 13, Laws of Utah, First Annual Session, 1852. p. 226). However the county remained with Iron County for most purposes until the county, and with it the County Court, was organized in February 1856. The Court was authorized to manage all county business and county property. The County Court was abolished with the creation of a county commission (UTSVH01540-A) at statehood in 1896.
By the laws enacted by the Legislature in the 1851 session, the Probate Judge in connection with the Selectmen, were invested with the usual powers and jurisdiction of County Commissioners. The Court was to manage all county business and county property, "and generally do, and perform, all such duties, as shall be required by the nature of their office, and as shall be required by law." (Laws of Utah 1852 p. 46-47). Over the years, these duties were defined in more detail by the territorial legislature and additional duties were added. The county court controlled the finances of the county, assessing taxes, authorizing bids, settling and allowing claims for goods and services, and after 1878 serving as a board of equalization; administered elections; oversaw the welfare of the county's inhabitants, including safety and jails, public health, burials, and care of the poor, insane, and orphans; created school and road districts and oversaw the layout of roads; supervised county and district officers and paid their salaries; licensed liquor vendors by 1860, butchers by 1865, and other businesses by 1884; managed public property and buildings; regulated programs for the benefit of livestock, crops, and fish and game; controlled water and timber privileges in the county; and by the 1880s provided for the incorporation of municipalities.
The Court was to audit and settle all claims against the county, and to audit and settle accounts of any collector of county revenue, taxes, or income payable into the county treasury. The members had the authority to assess a tax for county purposes and a road tax which were to be collected under the direction of the Court. The Court controlled all timber, water privileges, and could grant mill sites. In 1878, the Court was incorporated and could sue and be sued, make contracts and purchase real and personal property, direct the use and disposition of its property, and borrow money. The same year, the Court also was declared a Board of Equalization. The laws of 1888 detail other administrative functions of the County Court at that date: to make and enforce local (not municipal) regulations; to adopt rules on the storage of powder and combustible material; to direct the sheriff to attend county Court meetings, to preserve order, and serve notices, subpoenas, citations, etc. as directed by the Court; to subpoena for witnesses, books, etc. upon any subject or matter within the jurisdiction of the county Court; to post notice of meetings; and to receive donations of property. In 1892, the Court was authorized to issue bonds of indebtedness.
The County Court set polling places, appointed election judges, and oversaw the conduct of elections. They set the number of justices of the peace and constables and approved their bonds. They also approved the bonds and took the oaths for most elected county officials such as surveyor, treasurer, or sheriff. Many of these officials also were required to provide regular fiscal reports to the Court and the county recorder was obligated to get a County Selectman to sign a survey certificate before transferring land. In the case of vacancy within an elected position, the Court could appoint an interim official. The Court also appointed numerous other officials who were more directly overseen by the Court. By 1888, the Court's responsibility in this area was stated as being to supervise the conduct of county and district officers and to establish a county fund to pay salaries.
The County Court oversaw the layout of roads. The Court was to district the county into road districts, precincts, school districts, and other subdivisions as needed. Details on organizing irrigation districts were covered in the 1865 law. In 1880, the Selectmen became ex-officio water commissioners. The Court also could locate sites for and erect public buildings.
The Court could regulate bounties on wolf and fox pates. The Court was to prevent the needless destruction of fish, which until 1872 involved a license from the Court to trap fish. From 1874 to 1878, the Selectmen were constituted Fish Commissioners to enforce the fish laws and report to the Legislature. In 1888, the Court was allowed to offer bounties on certain varmints and pests, and the control of noxious weeds was also added to their duties. The same year, the Court was authorized to adopt regulations to promote the planting and preservation of shade and ornamental trees on roads and public grounds.
The County Court was authorized to establish estray pounds under each road commissioner until 1872 when the position of poundkeeper was created. The Court was required to issue each poundkeeper a recorded brand beginning in 1874. The Court could create quarantine grounds and was given some say over the location of herdgrounds. Beginning in 1865 the Court could call for special elections on the issue of fencing versus open range.
The Selectmen, in conjunction with the Court, were to take care of the poor and insane and to bind out orphans and vicious, idle, or vagrant children or Indian prisoners. Beginning in 1872, counties were allowed to erect a jail of which the Selectmen were ex-officio directors. With the founding of a territorial insane asylum in 1874, the Court was required to pay for indigents sent from the county. In 1882, the County Court was authorized to appoint a quarantine physician and in conjunction with him, the Court then constituted a board of quarantine. The Court's responsibilities in 1888 included the rights to regulate or prohibit common carriers from leaving the indigent, insane, or contagious individuals or bodies within the county if not residents; to provide for the working of prisoners in the county jail; and to provide for the burying of the indigent dead.
In 1860, liquor vendors were to obtain licenses from the County Court. In 1865, butchers also were to obtain a license; by 1884 business licensing in general was required through the County Court. A major addition to the Court's duties came under laws in 1884 and 1888 which provided for the incorporation of municipalities upon petitioning the County Court.
With statehood in 1896, the Probate Court and office of the Probate Judge were abolished. The County Selectmen became the County Commissioners until their successors could be elected. The County Probate Clerk also known as the County Court Clerk or County Clerk, continued as the County Clerk until the next election.
Court administration followed the pattern legislated in 1852 for the formation and government of counties. The Court consisted of three Selectmen presided over by the Probate Court Judge. The Probate Judge in conjunction with any two of the Selectmen constituted a quorum. The Selectmen could also hold session in the absence of the Probate Judge. The Clerk of the Probate Court, also known as the County Clerk, was to attend all sessions of the Court and to keep the records of the Court. Starting in 1870, the County Clerk was authorized to appoint a deputy.
The Probate Court Judge was elected to a one year term by the joint vote of the Legislative Assembly and commissioned by the Governor. In case of a vacancy, the Governor could appoint a Probate Judge until the next Legislative Assembly elected one. In 1874 the position of Probate Judge became a county elected position with a two year term. In 1887, the Probate Judge became appointed by the United States President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The first three Selectmen were chosen by the Probate Judge until a county election could be held, after which Selectmen were elected for staggered three year terms. In 1880, the Selectmen were elected for staggered two year terms. After that, vacancies were to be filled by the County Court if a majority remained, otherwise a special election was required. Between meetings of the Court, the Selectmen could transact business separately throughout the county relating to the poor, insane, orphans, minors, or other important business requiring immediate attention. They were required to report that business at the next session and have it approved by the Court before it became a matter of record. Selectmen and the Probate Judge were all required to take oaths and file bonds.
The Clerk of the Probate Court was appointed by the Probate Judge. In 1880, the position of County Clerk was made an elected position with a two year term.
Most elected officials were required to file oaths and bonds with the County Court, and many elected officials, such as the treasurer, were required to make regular reports to the Court. In addition, the County Court directly appointed and supervised many officials. These included road commissioners for road districts created in the county; election judges; a poll tax supervisor; a board of examiners for school teachers; and the collector/assessor until 1878 (the position was an elected one after that date). Beginning in 1872 the Court was authorized to appoint poundkeepers, and a bee inspector was appointed in Washington county as authorized in 1880. Other officials which the Court could appoint include a fish and game commissioner (1878-1884, 1892-1896),a quarantine physician (1882-1896), stock detectives (1890-1896), sheep inspector (1890-1896), fruit tree inspector (1894-1896), and inspectors of illuminating oils (1894-1896).
The Court regularly appointed the first officer for a number of positions until the time of a regularly scheduled election. They also appointed officers to fill vacancies until a special election or the next regularly scheduled election was held.
COMPILED BY: A.C. Cone, July 1996
Legislature. Laws of Utah, 1851-1894, (Series 83155)
Washington County Commission. Minutes, (Series 84226)
Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.