Academic journal article Washington Law Review

The Legacy of Norm Maleng

Academic journal article Washington Law Review

The Legacy of Norm Maleng

Article excerpt

At the 1940 Annual Conference of United States Attorneys, Attorney General Robert H. Jackson defined the qualities of a good prosecutor:

A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.1

When Attorney General Jackson spoke these words, Norm Maleng was one year old, living with his Norwegian immigrant parents on a small dairy farm near Acme, Washington. Despite his humble roots, that boy would grow up to become a man who epitomized those qualities as few prosecutors ever have. The story of how Norm Maleng built a prosecutorial career embodying those traits is what brings us together.

After becoming editor-in-chief of the Washington Law Review, Norm graduated at the top of his class from the University of Washington School of Law, and he accepted an offer from Senator Warren Magnuson to join the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee. The senator had a policy of offering a position to each year's top law student. Norm was "Maggie's" first Republican; he joined a staff of Democrats who were activists in the consumer reforms of the day. While Norm's fundamental Republican principles never wavered while working with this team of Democrats, he took great pride in his work on amendments to the Flammable Fabrics Act to expand its coverage to children's sleepwear.2 Norm watched President Lyndon Johnson sign those amendments into law in 1967, and the experience was a harbinger of the way Norm would approach issues in the future. His concern for those who could not protect themselves led this committed Republican to work shoulder to shoulder with Democrats toward a pragmatic solution that all could support. It was a pattern he would follow throughout his public life.

Returning to Washington state the next year, he joined the prestigious firm of Preston, Thorgrimson, Starin, Ellis & Holman. The lure of public service, however, was strong, and when the reformer Chris Bayley was elected King County Prosecuting Attorney in 1970, Norm became his Chief Civil Deputy. At the time Norm took the position, the Civil Division was in shambles.3 The deputies from the former administration had resigned, and many pending matters were unattended. Norm rose to the challenge and led a team of young, idealistic, non-partisan lawyers in building a superb public law office. Norm's success resulted from the combination of a brilliant legal mind and a deep insight into the issues that the Civil Division faced. He developed strong relationships with King County officials and saw it as his role to reduce the inevitable conflicts that occurred within government.

Norm recognized, however, that a public attorney's role was more than providing sound legal advice and advocacy. He became a wise counselor to King County's officials and worked quietly and effectively to bring a voice of reason to the inevitable conflicts that arose in the County's complex local government.

As Norm's reputation grew, elected officials and government leaders sought his wise counsel. Always aware that the elected officials were the policymakers, Norm worked tirelessly to ensure that their decisions were fully informed and made after a careful weighing of the public interest. He approached issues in a non-judgmental way, understanding the competing positions and crafting solutions that replaced rancor with harmony. Again and again county officials facing difficult problems would say, "Let's see what Norm thinks."

Prosecuting Attorney Chris Bayley's management style was inclusive. He brought together the chiefs of the three divisions to collectively develop office policies on all the important issues, a process that exposed Norm to issues in both the adult and juvenile criminal-justice systems. …

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