GARFIELD COUNTY COURT
Agency History #2631
The Garfield County Court was established with the creation of the county by the territorial legislature from land held by Iron County in March 1882 ("An Act changing the boundaries of Kane, Iron and Washington Counties, and creating Garfield County," Laws of Utah, 25th Annual Session, 1882, ch. LII, sec. 4, p. 94-100) . The Court was authorized to manage all county business and county property. The County Court was abolished with the creation of a county commission (UTSVH00416-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. When Garfield County was made a county in 1882, these terms were applied to the County Court. The County Court controlled the finances of the county, assessing taxes, authorizing bids, settling and allowing claims for goods and services, and 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, and by 1884, other businesses; 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 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 and water privileges, and could grant mill sites. The Court was to implement federal public land allotments. 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 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 law provided for the incorporation of municipalities upon petitioning the County Court and a subsequent election. The County Court set polling places, appointed election judges, and oversaw the conduct of all elections. The members 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. The court regularly appointed the first officer for a number of positions until the time of a regularly scheduled election. In the case of vacancy within an elected position, the Court also could appoint an interim official. In addition, the Court 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. Many officials, such as the treasurer, 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. The County Court licensed liquor vendors and butchers. By 1884, the County Court was required to issue general business licenses for private businesses operating in unincorporated areas of the county.
The County Court appointed road commissioners and oversaw the layout of roads. The Court was to district the county into road districts, precincts, school districts, and other subdivisions as needed. The Court was directed to divide the county into districts and erect fortifications. The Court organized irrigation districts with the Selectmen becoming 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. They were put in charge of fisheries to prevent the needless destruction of fish. In 1888, the Court was allowed to offer bounties on certain varmints and pests, and control of noxious weeds was also added to court 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 could establish estray pounds, and the Court was required to issue each poundkeeper a recorded brand. The Court could create quarantine grounds. Members were given some say over the location of herd grounds. 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. Counties were allowed to erect a jail of which the Selectmen were ex-officio directors. The Court was required to pay for indigents sent to the territorial insane asylum from the county. 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.
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. The County Clerk was authorized to appoint a deputy.
The first probate court judge and the first selectmen were appointed by the legislature until the general election in late 1882. Thereafter the Probate Court Judge was a county-elected official with a two year term until 1887 when the Probate Judge became appointed by the United States President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The three Selectmen were elected for staggered two year terms. 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 position of County Clerk was an elected position with a two year term.
The County Court directly appointed and supervised many officials. For Garfield county, these included road commissioners for road districts created in the county, water superintendents, election judges, school superintendents, a fish and game warden, and a quarantine physician.
COMPILED BY: A.C. Cone, August 1995
Legislature. Laws of Utah, 1880-1894, (Series 83155)
Garfield County Commission. Minutes (Series 9932)