Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 331 - Jun 26 1952
Attorney General Smith Troy


The offices of county coroner and deputy county sheriff (full time) are incompatible.

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                                                                   June 26, 1952

Honorable John C. Merkel
Prosecuting Attorney
Kitsap County
307 Dietz Building
Bremerton, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 331

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of June 3, 1952, you inquire as to whether the offices of Kitsap County coroner and deputy county sheriff are incompatible.

            It is our conclusion that the offices of county coroner and deputy county sheriff are incompatible.


            The courts have not laid down a clear and comprehensive rule concerning what constitutes incompatibility of office, but they have mentioned certain tests to be applied to facts of cases as they arise.

            InState v. Wittmer, 50 Mont. 22, 144 Pac. 648, the court said:

            "Offices are 'incompatible' when one has power of removal over the other, * * * when one is in any way subordinate to the other, * * * when one has power of supervision over the other, * * * or when the nature and duties of the two offices are such as to render it improper for considerations of public policy for one person to retain both.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Also, it would seem that the incompatibility of the offices of county coroner and deputy county sheriff is to be found in RCW 36.24.010 (§ 1, chapter 21, Laws of 1897):

            "The coroner shall perform the duties of the sheriff in all cases where the sheriff is interested or otherwise incapacitated of serving; and whenever the coroner acts as sheriff he shall possess the powers and perform the duties of sheriff, * * * "

            In the above quoted statute it is to be noted that the coroner shall serve in the place of the sheriff in all cases in which the sheriff is interested.  The legislature has no doubt intended that the coroner is to act in place of the sheriff, on the occasions noted, by reason of the coroner being a separate and distinct office and not subordinate to the sheriff.  Therefore, in our opinion the county coroner is precluded from being a deputy sheriff by reason of the fact that he would be a subordinate of the sheriff, and in the instance where the sheriff is interested, and the coroner acts in his stead he would not retain the impartiality and disinterest contemplated by the above quoted statute if he were also a deputy sheriff.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General