Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1973 No. 116 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
                                                                October 29, 1973
Honorable Robert F. Patrick
Prosecuting Attorney
Whitman County
P.O. Box 30
Colfax, Washington 99111
                                                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGLO 1973 No. 116
Dear Sir:
            We are in receipt of your letter dated October 26, 1973, requesting our views with respect to certain questions pertaining to the temporary service of the same person as county prosecuting attorney and as acting county sheriff in a fourth through ninth class county.
            As an attachment to your letter you have provided us with a copy of an amicus curiae brief on these questions which has, apparently, been submitted to the Whitman County Superior Court.  It is not clear, however, whether this submission is in connection with pending litigation or just what its function is.
            Of course, if the questions you have asked are presently pending before the court in connection with litigation, it would be inappropriate, for reasons of long-standing policy, for us to attempt to answer them by any sort of an official attorney general's opinion at this time.
            We may, however, properly call your attention to AGO 1972 No. 1 [[to C. J. Rabideau, Prosecuting Attorney, Franklin County on January 10, 1972]], copy enclosed, in which this office reviewed and specifically overruled, among others, the 1926 opinion to the Cowlitz county prosecuting attorney upon which reliance is placed on page 1 of the amicus brief you have submitted to us.  In this recent opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Franklin county, we took the position that a prosecuting attorney who is also serving as a county coroner in a fourth through ninth class county (accord, RCW 36.16.030) is, essentially, simply holding two offices pursuant to specific statutory authorization ‑ and in his capacity as county coroner he possesses all of the powers and duties which are vested in the coroner by law.  This line of reasoning, it would seem, would lend considerable credence to a notion that an individual such as you who is serving as both the prosecuting attorney and as the coroner of a county may, in his capacity as the county coroner, perform the duties  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of the county sheriff in those cases to which RCW 36.24.010 applies.  Moreover, his doing so would not be violative of the doctrine of incompatible public offices inasmuch as this is a common-law doctrine which only applies in the absence of a statute to the contrary.
            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General