AGLO 1973 No. 54 - May 21 1973
COURTS ‑- SUPERIOR ‑- COUNTIES ‑- EMPLOYEES ‑- REPORTERS
Court reporters appointed by the various superior court judges under RCW 2.32.180 are employees of the county or counties whose superior courts they serve pursuant to such appointments.
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May 21, 1973
Honorable Frank Woody
State Senator, 39th District
Woodinville, Washington 98043
Cite as: AGLO 1973 No. 54
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion as to the employment status of superior court reporters under existing statutes.
We answer your question in the manner set forth in the following analysis.
The basic statute governing the appointment of superior court reporters is RCW 2.32.180 which commences by stating that:
"It shall be and is the duty of each and every superior court judge in counties or judicial districts in the state of Washington having a population of over thirty-five thousand inhabitants to appoint, or said judge may, in any county or judicial district having a population of over twenty-five thousand and less than thirty-five thousand, appoint a stenographic reporter to be attached to the court holden by him . . ."
In addition, RCW 2.32.220 similarly provides for the appointment of court reporters on an optional basis in judicial districts having a total population of less than 25,000, and RCW 2.32.230 provides for their appointment to serve two or more judicial districts, each of which has a total population under 25,000.
The proficiency qualifications which must be possessed by these court reporters are spelled out in some detail in an ensuing portion of RCW 2.32.180, supra, whereafter this statute then goes on to provide that:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"The stenographic reporter upon appointment shall thereupon become an officer of the court and shall be designated and known as the official reporter for the court or judicial district for which he is appointed: . . . Such reporter in each court is hereby declared to be a necessary part of the judicial system of the state of Washington."
The primary function of a superior court reporter, of course, is to attend the court or courts to which he is attached and to transcribe ". . . the oral testimony, exceptions taken, and other oral proceedings had, . . ." therein. RCW 2.32.200. For the performance of these services the reporter is compensated in the manner set forth in RCW 2.32.210, which, as last amended by § 1, chapter 18, Laws of 1972, Ex. Sess., provides, in material part, as follows:
"Each official reporter shall be paid compensation as follows:
"(1) In judicial districts comprised of class AA counties, such salary as shall be fixed by the judges of said counties and approved by the board of county commissioners of said class AA counties;
"(2) In judicial districts having a total population of forty thousand or more, excluding class AA counties, fourteen thousand dollars per annum;
"(3) In judicial districts having a total population of twenty-five thousand and under forty thousand, eight thousand four hundred dollars per annum;
"Said compensation shall be paid out of the current expense fund of the county where court is held.
". . ."
In those instances where a single court reporter serves a judicial district comprising two or more counties, this statute goes on to provide for an apportionment of his salary between those counties ". . . in proportion to the number of criminal and civil actions entered and commenced in superior court of the constituent counties in the preceding year. . . ." And, similarly, where a [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] single court reporter serves two or more judicial districts under RCW 2.32.230, supra, this statute provides that:
". . . the salary of such official reporter shall be determined by the total population of all the judicial districts so served in accordance with the schedule of salaries in RCW 2.32.210, and shall be apportioned between the several counties of the districts as therein provided. . . ."
Although court reporters are stated to be "officers of the court" in RCW 2.32.180, supra, the Washington supreme court has held that they are, in fact, not "public officers" as that term has been commonly defined in cases involving such things as constitutionally restricted mid-term pay raises or the like. See, State ex rel. Brown v. Blew, 20 Wn.2d 47, 52, 145 P.2d 554 (1944), wherein the court, after noting the various elements which must exist in order for a position to constitute a "public office," explained why a court reporter is not such an officer by saying:
"No powers are conferred upon the court reporter nor are the duties he is to perform defined. He performs no independent duties, but attends court when directed, takes notes of the oral testimony, exceptions taken, and other oral proceedings had, except when the judge and attorneys dispense with his services with respect to any portion of the proceedings therein, and transcribes, or causes his notes to be transcribed, if the court, or either party to the suit or action, or his attorney, requests a transcript thereof. He may be removed by the judge for incompetency, misconduct, or neglect of duty. In certain counties he does the stenographic work required by the judge.
"Although the act of 1913 provides that the reporter is an officer of the court, this designation alone is not sufficient to make him a public officer. Attorneys at law are officers of the court, also others who render assistance to the judge or the court over which he presides in the performance of his duties. They are often designated as officers of the court, but they are not public officers.
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
"We think it very clear that, when the various elements of a public office and the characteristics of a public officer are considered in connection with the act of 1913 and its amendments, a court reporter is not a public officer, but is an employee designated as an officer of the court, . . ."
For the purposes of participation in the public employees' retirement system we are advised by the administrators of that system that all superior court reporters have, since the inception of the retirement system in 1947,1/ been treated as employees of the county or counties by which their salaries are paid. In other words, where a reporter is employed by the superior court of a single county ‑ such as, for example, Snohomish, King or Pierce ‑ he is treated for retirement purposes as an employee of that county and it, alone, is responsible for payment of the required "employer's contribution" to the retirement fund. See, RCW 41.40.361, et seq. Conversely, where the reporter serves a judicial district comprising more than one county, or (as provided for in RCW 2.32.230, supra) serves the courts of two or more judicial districts, he is treated as an employee of each of the constituent counties to the extent of the respective portions of his total salary paid by each; and each such county is thereby required to make an "employer's contribution" to the retirement fund on the basis of that portion of the reporter's salary which it pays.
As far as the physical hiring, supervision and (if necessary) firing of a superior court reporter are concerned, his "employer" in these respects is, of course, the superior court and judge whom he serves. Accord, the above quoted excerpt from State ex rel. Brown v. Blew, supra, together with RCW 2.32.180 as quoted above.2/ Accordingly, just as [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] in the case of a court reporter's employment status in relation to the payment of his compensation, this results in his being, essentially, the employee of a single county in those instances where the court he serves encompasses only one county, and the joint employee of two or more component counties in those instances where he serves a multicounty judicial district or districts.
It is hoped that the foregoing general resume of the employment status of superior court reporters in this state will be of some assistance to you. If, after reviewing this opinion, you have any further specific questions relating to this matter please advise, and we will be happy to given them our further consideration.
Very truly yours,
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, chapter 274, Laws of 1947.
2/With respect to tenure and termination, this statute provides that:
". . . Each official reporter so appointed shall hold office during the term of office of the judge or judges appointing him, but may be removed for incompetency, misconduct or neglect of duty, . . ."