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AGLO 1974 No. 9 - January 21, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- PROSECUTING ATTORNEY-CORONER-SHERIFF ‑- SALARY OR FEES

In a fourth class county, where the prosecuting attorney serves as ex officio coroner, and where, due to a vacancy in the office of sheriff, the said prosecuting attorney in his capacity as coroner has also performed temporarily the duties of the sheriff by reason of RCW 36.24.010, the prosecuting attorney/coroner is not entitled to the sheriff's salary or fees for the period in which he performed the sheriff's duties.

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                                                                 January 21, 1974

Honorable Robert F. Patrick
Prosecuting Attorney
Whitman County
P.O. Box 30
Colfax, Washington 99111                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 9

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have requested an opinion of this office upon a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            In a fourth class county, where the prosecuting attorney serves as ex officio coroner, and where, due to a vacancy in the office of sheriff, the said prosecuting attorney in his capacity as coroner has also performed temporarily the duties of the sheriff by reason of RCW 36.24.010, is the prosecuting attorney/coroner entitled to the sheriff's salary or fees for the period in which he performed the sheriff's duties?

            For the reasons stated in the analysis below, we answer this question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 36.16.030 provides that in counties of the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth classes, no coroner shall be elected and the prosecuting attorney shall be ex officio coroner.  RCW 36.24.010, in turn, then states that:

            "The coroner shall perform the duties of the sheriff in all cases where the sheriff is interested or otherwise incapacitated from serving . . . and shall be entitled to the same fees as are allowed by law to the sheriff for similar services: . . ."

            The question is whether these statutes entitle a county prosecuting attorney serving as ex officio coroner to the sheriff's salary for a period in which  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the sheriff is incapacitated (or the office of sheriff is vacant) and the coroner performs the sheriff's duties.

            We begin our response to this question with a notation of RCW 36.17.010, which provides that:

            "The county officers of the counties of this state, according to their class, shall receive a salary for the services required of them by law, or by virtue of their office, which salary shall be full compensation for all services of every kind and description rendered by them."

            RCW 36.17.020 then fixes the salaries of all county elected officials ‑ subject to such increases or decreases as may be provided for by the board of county commissioners or other legislative authority of each county.  Accord, AGO 1973 No. 20 [[to Granville Egan, Prosecuting Attorney, Ferry County on September 20, 1973]].

            The clear implication of RCW 36.17.010, supra, is that the salaries for each office that are fixed by or in accordance with RCW 36.17.020 are to constitute "full compensation" for the performance of all of the duties assigned to the various county elected officials by virtue of their respective offices.  This does not mean that where a county officer also serves in some other position with his county by virtue of a separate appointment thereto rather than by virtue of his elective office, he may not receive additional compensation for his performance of the duties of that other position.  See, AGO 63-64 No. 66 [[to R. A. Hensel, Prosecuting Attorney, Douglas County on October 18, 1963]], copy enclosed.  It does, however, mean that if he is required to "wear both hats," so to speak, simply because of his incumbency in the office to which he was elected, he may only draw the salary assigned to that office.

            This view of RCW 36.17.010, supra, is consistent with the conclusion reached by this office in 27 OAG 19, an opinion written to the Supervisor of Municipal Corporations on March 1, 1927, which we are also enclosing for your immediate reference.  There we advised that a prosecuting attorney also serving as coroner in a fourth through ninth class county is not entitled to any of the coroner's fees or to any separate salary for his performance of the duties of that office.  In so  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] opining, we noted,interalia, that the very statute which had abolished the separate office of coroner in counties of these classes had also set the salaries of county officers in another section and had excluded any mention of added compensation for those prosecuting attorneys who also were required to perform the duties of coroner thereunder.

            This same reasoning applies, we think, to RCW 36.24.010, supra.  As a part of the coroner's duties, the legislature contemplated that he would occasionally have to perform the duties of the county sheriff ‑ as a duty of his office as coroner.  By the same token it further must be taken to have contemplated that by virtue of RCW 36.16.030,supra, the coroner performing those duties might also be the prosecuting attorney.  Yet no provision was made in either of these statutes for any sort of an exception to the mandate of RCW 36.17.010,supra, that the salary attached to the office to which he was elected would constitute "full compensation" for the performance of all of the duties of that office ‑ including, here, an occasional performance of the duties of the county sheriff.1/

             For this reason, it is our opinion that a prosecuting attorney who, as ex officio coroner, performs the duties of the county sheriff on a temporary basis under RCW 36.24.010,supra, is not entitled to any of the sheriff's salary or fees for the period in which he is acting sheriff.  The contigency that he may serve as acting sheriff from time to time is simply one of incidents and duties of the original office for which he was elected, and for which his statutory salary is intended to be full compensation.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

JAMES K. PHARRIS
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/It is true that RCW 36.24.010 does provide that the coroner in such a case ". . . shall be entitled to the same fees as are allowed by law to the sheriff for similar services:  . . ."  The word "fees" in this section, however, would appear to refer not to the salary of the sheriff but to the "fees" collected by the office of the sheriff under the authority of RCW 36.18.040.  By reason of RCW 36.17.010,supra, these fees inure not to the sheriff personally but to the county treasury.

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