Looking for Public Servants

Prosecutor Looking For a Few Good Public Servants

by Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, first published in The Tacoma Weekly

Walt Bettinger, the chief operating officer of Charles Schwab & Company, sometimes takes job candidates to breakfast. Before the meal arrives, Bettinger asks the restaurant manager to botch the applicant’s order.

For example, instead of the pancakes and orange juice she ordered, the applicant could be served bacon and a banana shake.

This, of course, is a test.

How does the applicant react? Is there anger? Is there a scene? Does it throw the candidate off-kilter?

Or does the applicant respond with coolness and grace?

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, action is character. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in nine years as your elected prosecutor, is to hire character with competence.

I personally interview all of the finalists. The future of our office depends on hiring talented, diverse, service-minded people.

The safety of our community also depends on this.

We best serve the community, we best protect the community, we best keep the community safe when we hire the best people.

Based on experience, we have condensed what we are looking for into three criteria we call the trifecta: good worker, good colleague, good emissary.

A good worker is someone who has the skills to do the job well. If a candidate is a finalist meeting with me, they almost certainly qualify.

A good colleague is someone who can do the job well and also help those around them excel. Good colleagues are team players. They treat everyone respectfully. They understand the job isn’t about them, it’s about serving the public.

A good emissary is someone who can do the job well, help their colleagues do their job well, and represent the office well to the public we serve.

In this noisy era of fact-free politics, it is especially important that public servants let the community know what their government is doing for them. The antidote to misinformation is information.

We also have to listen.

Last year, I spoke with approximately 200 community groups. I listened, I learned, and we made adjustments in the office based on feedback from our constituents. Everyone in our office is expected to communicate with the public to some degree.

People from the community serve on our juries and elect the county council members who set our budget. We earn their confidence through action, including communication and responsiveness.

We have a staff of about 220. Many were hired long ago. A few have struggled with our demanding standards and our culture of public service.

Public service is not for everyone.

It’s a tough job. You’re always busy, you’re sometimes maligned. People can burn out. To survive and excel, you cannot let bacon and a banana shake throw you off-kilter. You have to find grace.

You will not make everyone happy.

If you want to make everyone happy, sell ice cream.

Like many organizations, we use character-driven interview questions designed to distinguish positive people from negative people, learners from blamers, hard workers from slackers. You can guess who successful organizations prefer to hire.

Every year, some people retire or move on. We are often hiring. We want our office to reflect the diverse community we serve. We are always changing and growing and improving.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has had a few cool careers, said, “I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life.”

If the ecstasy and occasional agony of public service appeal to you, if you want to help us keep our community safe and strong, if you can be a good worker, a good colleague, and a good emissary, then you should consider applying to our office.

If you’re a finalist, maybe I’ll take you out for breakfast.

Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County Prosecutor. A career prosecutor with more than 20 years of service in the office, he was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014. 

Have a Pleasant New Year

Have a Pleasant New Year, first published in The Tacoma Weekly

By Prosecutor Mark Lindquist

“Years ago, my mother used to say to me, ‘In this world, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I’m quoting Elwood P. Dowd, the hero of “Harvey.” This classic holiday movie starring Jimmy Stewart is about a dipsomaniac and an invisible, six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit. Elwood P. Dowd says things like, “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I won out over it.”

This is not the sort of stuff you would expect a serious candidate to quote on his Facebook page, but I know a candidate who did.

The candidate, Mark Roe, was a friend of mine in college. We bummed around Europe together in the early ’80s. He was appointed as Snohomish County Prosecutor in December of ’09 and ran for election in ’10. I was appointed as Pierce County Prosecutor in September ’09 and was also on the ballot in ‘10.

We didn’t plan this.

That campaign season, we talked a lot. I probably should have advised Roe against quoting an eccentric tippler, but I didn’t. I thought it was so original for a political campaign, and so authentic, that it worked.

Roe’s faithfulness to pleasantness wavered only once that I know of during his campaign. He called to say, “My opponents keep lying about me.”

Welcome to the club, I almost said.

Instead, I advised him to stick with his Elwood P. Dowd philosophy of pleasant. Roe did. He found campaign Zen and won easily.

In Roe’s younger years, he was concerned with demonstrating how smart he was. Unlike most people who do this, Roe truly is smart. He is so smart that he figured out that pleasant is more important.

I had this epiphany later in life than Roe. Timing is everything, as they say, and I was open to the concept in the summer of 2010. The death of my brother in June and the birth of my daughter in August was a yin-yang wake-up call.

Life is short and uncertain.

After serving three terms, one partial and two full, Roe and I are both up for our fourth term in 2018. Roe, however, is not running. The reality of public service may not be as pleasant as it once was, but I cannot say to what degree this affected Roe’s decision to retire. I can say I still love serving. Even the things about the job I don’t like, I still love.

When I need the philosophy of pleasantness affirmed, I turn to Marcus Aurelius, my favorite stoic. “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and evil.” He goes on to charitably note that none of these things can injure him because we are all brothers and he cannot be angry with his brethren.

In other words, be relentlessly pleasant.

I have long been into New Year’s resolutions. Historically, my resolutions were a typical laundry list: read more books, quit watching bad movies, appreciate beauty, use sunscreen, and so on.

In my thirties my resolutions were about the length of “The Great Gatsby,” which is short for a novel but long for a to-do list. So I began honing them. Rather than resolutions, the list became one of guiding principles, how to best fight the good fight.

I eventually thinned it to three: live with integrity, practice gratitude, be a person on whom nothing is lost.

Thanks to Elwood P. Dowd and Mark Roe, I’ve added be pleasant. Pleasantness is how Elwood P. Dowd “won out” over reality.

It’s smart to be pleasant.

You may quote me.

Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County Prosecutor. A career prosecutor with more than 20 years of service, he was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2014.

Protecting Vulnerable Adults

This was the third in my series of public safety columns for The Tacoma Weekly.

Protecting Elders and other Vulnerable Adults

by Prosecutor Mark Lindquist

Mr. Villegas’ life savings began to dwindle under the control of his daughter. He was 81-years-old with dementia and early Alzheimer’s. Frugal, he lived on a modest income. His savings was nearly $200,000, primarily from the sale of his home, but his daughter drained his account to almost nothing over the course of a few years.

Without money, Mr. Villegas could not afford the assisted living he needed. Luckily, Mr. Villegas’ son Robert became aware of the situation and intervened. Mr. Villegas’ daughter went to prison for the theft and Mr. Villegas moved in with his son, where he was properly cared for.

In 2011, I formed an Elder Abuse Unit to protect elders and vigorously prosecute those who take advantage of vulnerable adults. We recognized that as our population ages, there are more elders who need more protection. Since then, our office has been a leader in the prosecution and prevention of elder abuse, whether it’s financial exploitation, physical abuse, or neglect.

Initially, our Elder Abuse Unit was a one-woman team with Deputy Prosecutor Erika Nohavec. Yes, as Erika sometimes joked, there can be an “I” in team. Our team subsequently expanded to include two deputy prosecutors, two victim advocates, and a legal assistant. The Pierce County Council recognized the vital work we were doing and provided the additional staff.

We aim to be leaders in the prosecution and prevention of elder abuse just as we have been leaders in reducing gang violence and removing career criminals from our streets. We innovate, we collaborate, we excel. In 2016, we won a grant from the Department of Justice of nearly $400,000 — we were one of only nine counties in the country to receive this award. The funds are being used to coordinate a comprehensive approach to protecting elders and other vulnerable adults.

One major component of this comprehensive approach was the formation of the Coordinated Community Response Team. This group includes prosecutors, law enforcement departments, the Attorney General’s Office, Adult Protective Services, the Korean Women’s Association, and other stakeholders.

Our vision is to create a safe community for vulnerable adults. Our mission is to effectively respond to the needs of older victims, hold abusers accountable, identify and bridge the gaps in services available to victims, and improve coordination between service providers through multidisciplinary collaboration. This collaboration also helps us hold offenders accountable. Working with multiple agencies, our office successfully prosecuted a caregiver in 2016 for a shocking case of neglect.

Mr. Carter was found nonresponsive in his bed and was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital. Several large and deep pressure ulcers were discovered on his backside, the worst of which was 8×13 inches and went down to the bone.

His paid caregiver packed the wounds with paper towels and Neosporin. This led to a serious infection, which ultimately killed Mr. Carter. Doctors and nurses said it was worst example of neglect they had seen in their careers. This was the first murder conviction in Washington premised on a failure to seek necessary medical care for a vulnerable adult.

We prosecute and we prevent. Raising awareness and educating people on how to protect themselves, their friends, and their family members is part of how we reduce crimes against the vulnerable and keep them safe. If you know of a group that would benefit from hearing from us, please let us know. Deputy Sven Nelson, the current supervisor of the Elder Abuse Unit, is happy to speak with community groups. And so am I.

We are committed to keeping our community safe for everyone.

Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County prosecutor. A career prosecutor with more than 20 years of service in the office, he was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014.

New HPO Program Reduces Crime


This is the second in my series of public safety columns for The Tacoma Weekly.

New High Priority Offender Program Reduces Crime

By Prosecutor Mark Lindquist

He began his criminal career with a burglary in 2000. Before he turned 40, he racked up 16 felony convictions. Though he was versatile – stealing cars, committing identify theft and dabbling in drugs – burglary remained his crime of choice.

This year he went on a short crime spree, which included yet another burglary. Our new data-driven system identified him as a High Priority Offender (HPO) based on his conduct and history. He was charged, convicted and recently sentenced to several years in prison.

This was our 500th HPO case.

Your Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office is focusing resources on the small percentage of criminals who are causing a large percentage of the crimes. Some call them career criminals; we call them high priority offenders.

In almost every context, it’s a small group of bad actors causing most of the problems. This is certainly true in the world of criminal justice. That’s not new; that’s common sense. What is new is how our office uses data and technology to identify the worst offenders, the career criminals, and take them off our streets.

As part of our ongoing effort to keep our community safe, we began the HPO program in 2015. We studied similar data-driven programs on the East Coast, particularly in New York, and adapted the techniques for Pierce County. Consistent with the crime-fighting innovation we have demonstrated with our Elder Abuse Unit and gang sweeps, we are the first on the West Coast to implement this program.

The HPO program is based on three elements of criminality: rate, persistence and dangerousness. As a result, the focus is on those offenders who most impact our community. Investigator Gene Miller, a former Tacoma Police Department detective, manages the data. As your prosecutor, I worked with Detective Miller on homicide cases and on the Tacoma Mall shooting. I have high confidence in him and in our program.

My confidence and enthusiasm for the program are shared by our partners in law enforcement. Using data to focus resources and improve public safety is cost-effective and forward-thinking.

High priority offenders average 11 prior felony convictions and more than three prior trips to prison. After conviction as a HPO, the individual serves a sentence that is nearly four times greater than the average sentence in Washington.

And when you send a career criminal to prison, you prevent dozens of future crimes.

Why do we need this program when Washington has a three-strikes law? Because not all felonies are strikes. In fact, only “most serious offenses” are strikes. HPO applies to burglaries and other crimes that do not qualify as strike offenses, but still impact victims and our community. 

Our future plan is to build on the success of this program by instituting a notification system. We want high priority offenders to know they have been identified. Our goal is to end their criminal careers. They can go to prison, or they can change careers. Either way, our community is safer.

Pierce County is booming. Population is up, crime is down. Our HPO program is one of the reasons.

Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County Prosecutor. A career prosecutor with more than 20 years of service in the office, he was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014.

Building a Safe Community

This is the first in my series of public safety columns for The Tacoma Weekly.


By Prosecutor Mark Lindquist

One of the joys of being a dad is reading to our daughter. She laughs at Dr. Seuss and is fascinated by the “Wild Things.” Like millions of other children, she also loves “The Three Little Pigs,” a fable about hard work and safety.

Mom sends the three siblings out into the world where there are dangers, as represented by the big bad wolf. The first two pigs build their houses quickly, one with straw, the other with sticks. They both become wolf lunch.

The third sibling, in contrast, works hard and builds his house with bricks. He stays safe. The lasting appeal of this fable speaks to everyone’s fundamental need for safety, which is the cornerstone of well-being for any community.

As your Prosecutor, my job is to keep our community safe. Keeping you safe is not my only duty as the people’s lawyer, but it is my main duty. Our office protects you in a variety of ways, some old-fashioned, some innovative. It’s all part of a brick-solid foundation.

I’ll be discussing our numerous public safety initiatives in this column. This is a preview of some of our efforts to protect you and your family, which I’ll cover in more detail in future columns.


As our population ages, our vulnerable elders need greater protections. In 2011, I formed an Elder Abuse Unit. We have become leaders in both the prosecution and prevention of elder abuse. In 2016, our office was one of only nine counties in the country to win an award from the Department of Justice of nearly $400,000. These funds are being used to coordinate a comprehensive approach to protecting elders and other vulnerable adults.


HPO is a new data-driven program where we focus resources on the small percentage of criminals who cause a large percentage of crimes. In crime, as in life, it’s a small group of bad actors causing most of the problems. That’s not new, that’s common sense. What’s new is how we are using data and technology to identify these career criminals and high-impact offenders, tag them in the system, and remove them from our streets. This new program has already reduced crime and made us safer.


Gang violence in Pierce County is down more than 60% since we formed a specialized Gang Unit to vigorously prosecute violent street gangs. We successfully used conspiracy charges, gun charges, and other tools to hold violent gang members accountable. We also work with local government and non-profit partners to prevent gang violence by steering our youth away from street gangs.


The average age for children coerced into the sex trade is 12-13. Many of them are runaways who were sexually abused as children. To protect these vulnerable victims, we vigorously prosecute their abusers. We also work with our partners to support victims and assist them in finding alternatives to the sex trade.


For decades, the Department of Corrections (DOC) used Pierce County as a dumping ground for offenders from other counties. With “fair share” legislation, we stopped the dumping. This year, DOC closed Rap-Lincoln, a work release facility that drew offenders here from around the state. Further, we reached an agreement with DOC that any replacement facility would not be in our county. We remain vigilant so our county is never again a dumping ground.


Many crimes are driven by drugs, mental health issues, or some combination. As an alternative to traditional prosecution, we have a progressive drug court, a veteran’s track in drug court, and a mental health court. By balancing accountability and compassion, we offer help to non-violent offenders willing to seek treatment.


Juveniles and adults are different and therefore we treat them differently. The primary goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation. We hold juveniles accountable, and also provide them with support and guidance. We use innovative, evidence-based programs to help juveniles grow into productive members of our community. This is yet another example of smartly and effectively using our limited resources to keep our community safe. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


I’m also proactive in other criminal justice system issues, including legislation to improve public safety and equal access to justice. Our justice system should be fair, free of bias, and serve all of our people well.

One of my goals as your prosecutor is to cultivate a culture of effective public service. Our office leaders expect high performance and high standards from our staff and will fight for what’s right.

We are accessible and openly communicate with the public we serve. Our community should know what our Prosecutor’s Office is doing and why.

Pierce County is booming. Population is up, crime is down. Our brick foundation is solid. As your Prosecutor, I am committed to keeping Pierce County safe and strong.

Mark Lindquist is our Pierce County Prosecutor. A career prosecutor with more than 20 years of service in the office, he was appointed in 2009, elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014.

Parades and Speeches

Our daughter Sloane loved her first parade as a participant! She waved to the enthusiastic Steilacoom crowd like a pro. You can see pictures on my personal Facebook page, my public Facebook page, or the Pictures section of this site.

I do a lot of public speaking to various community groups. Usually I’m discussing public safety, our Elder Abuse Unit, our Gang Unit, our High Priority Offender Program, “Fair Share” or some other way we are protecting our community from crime. Sometimes, though, the subject is writing or something even broader.

Recently, I was happy to honor the graduates of Clover Park Technical College this year as their commencement speaker. My speech was titled #fivehastags, with each hashtag representing a chunk of counsel. For example, #HashtagOne was #MakeFriendsWithGreatPeople. Here it is:


Congratulations, graduates! Does anyone have plans for tonight? Celebrate the victories, I say. And drive safe.

Congratulations also to the families and friends of the graduates.

If your phone is still on, feel free to keep it on. Tweet all you want. #Respect4Tech

Thank you President Loveday, thank you Clover Park trustees, thank you faculty, staff and students.

I’m Mark Lindquist, your County Prosecutor. There was a time in America when people didn’t hate lawyers. Lawyers used to be counselors. They would give good counsel, rather than just cause trouble.

Tonight, as your lawyer, I’m going to be an old-fashioned counselor. My counsel to you will be in the form of five hashtags. You can hashtag that, by the way.

First though, I’m going to tell you a quick story about my background so you know something about the source. Before I was your Prosecutor, I was a writer.

Now, it’s not unusual for lawyers to become writers. That seems smart. It is unusual for writers to become lawyers. That seems dumb, but that’s what I did.

Here’s how it happened: I grew up here in the Northwest, attended the University of Washington, transferred to the University of Southern California, and fell under the smoggy spell of Los Angeles and Hollywood and Venice Beach.

My first novel, which was published while I was in my 20s, opened numerous doors. I was lucky and it was kind of crazy. Suddenly I was driving through movie studio gates, hanging out with bands I loved, working with some of the most talented, charismatic people in the country. I was in way over my head, writing novels, screenplays, articles, book reviews, and I was doing it on a new computer called an Apple Mac, which had some glitches back then, by the way.

I’m going to leave out the rest of what happened over the next ten years because it was the 80s. If you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you have the general idea.

In the 90s, I finally got around to doing what my mother always told me I was going to do. I went to law school. During law school, I interned in the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office. I found my path. There is a long history of public service on both sides of my family, so you could say I went into the family business.

I’ve had three careers, if you don’t count bartender and other odd jobs: a writer, a trial prosecutor, and your elected Prosecutor.

Most of you will have multiple careers as well. The world is changing fast and so are job opportunities. As your lawyer, here’s what I’ve learned and can recommend as good general rules:

Hashtag One: #MakeFriendsWithGreatPeople

This I learned in college. In fact, since I only have a vague degree in humanities, this is the most important college lesson I remember. A caveat: it’s actually the only lesson I remember.

Mark Twain put it this way, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

The small people are the critics, the sour souls who resent the success of others. Do you know people like that? The great people are the confident ones, the joyful souls who celebrate the success of others. I hope you know people like that. Surround yourself with the right people, the ones who lift your spirit, and the possibilities are infinite.

Hashtag Two: #FollowYourBliss

This I learned after college from Joseph Campbell, a professor who was a major influence on many writers, including George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. Follow your bliss means, basically, discover your passion, and follow that path. Here’s what I can tell you about following your bliss: if you do this, the universe will open doors for you. It will be like Obi-Wan Kenobi is riding shotgun with you.

So how do you know if you are following your bliss? There’s a saying, listen to your inner voice, unless your inner voice is telling you to commit a crime.

Here’s how I know I’m following Professor Campell’s counsel. Even the things about my job I don’t like, I still love. I wake up every morning excited about the privilege of protecting our community, keeping us all safe.  Also, I’m never bored. If you wake up feeling good about serving somebody or something, you’ve found your bliss.

Hashtag Three: #LiveWithGratitude

 This I learned from spiritual counselors in my life. At dinner, my wife and daughter and I go around the table and share what we are grateful for. Research shows that gratitude not only makes you happier, it makes you healthier. Furthermore, as the Dali Lama said, when you live with gratitude, you develop respect for others.

Jimmy Iovine, a music producer, likes to tell a story about a time when he was sick of working for his boss, who was the Boss, Bruce Sprinsteen. The Boss is apparently pretty demanding when he’s recording an album. Jimmy complained to Bruce’s manager and said he was going to quit. The manager told Jimmy he was missing the big picture. This isn’t about you, Jimmy, it’s about Bruce’s record. He advised Jimmy to put aside his personal issues, put aside his ego, and tell Bruce he supported him and would do whatever needed to be done. Jimmy did exactly that and the result was a classic album.

When you live with gratitude, you see the big picture and connect with something bigger than yourself.

Hashtag Four: #HaveFunBeGreat

This I learned this from Zen actor Bill Murray. It’s one of my mantras around the office. Have fun, be great. If you’re going to do something, do it better than anyone has done before, be the best. Here’s the trick: you do your best when you’re having fun. We do everything better when we are relaxed. Think about the times in your life when you were performing well, in a game, at work, whatever. You were in the zone, as they say. You were having fun. When you worry, you tighten up and screw up.

There is a Zen maxim about worrying: If you have a problem that can be fixed, then there is no use in worrying. If you have a problem that cannot be fixed, then there is no use in worrying.

Another caveat: you are going to fail sometimes. If you’re a life long learner, you actually need to fail because your best mistakes are your best lessons. Don’t over do it though. You may not want to fail as often as, say, Abraham Lincoln. He started his adult life as a total loser. He had a business that failed, he lost an election for the state legislature, he had a nervous breakdown, and then he came back … and lost five more elections. You know the rest of that story.

Learn from the failures, celebrate the victories, have fun. You’ll be great.

Hashtag Five: #ThinkLikeAnArtist

This I learned from writers and from Steve Jobs. Henry James advised artists to be someone on whom nothing is lost. I think this is true of all real artists. Artists pay attention, they look, they listen. Even more importantly, as Ernest Hemingway emphasized, artists pursue the truth. That’s why there’s more truth in a good song or a good novel than in news these days.

Steve Jobs liked to tell a story about building a bookshelf. You can put plywood on the back of a bookshelf because nobody sees the back, but if you do, you will know you used cheap wood. On the other hand, if you use quality wood, you will know that. If you insist on doing things with integrity, whatever it is, you will know it and good people will sense it. Yet another caveat: mediocre people will hate you for this, they will make up stories about you, it will drive them crazy. So that’s a bonus. If you want to make everyone happy, sell ice cream.

No matter what you do for a living, you can think like an artist. If you do that, you will seek out truth. You will notice beauty. You will appreciate the world around you, which turns out to be this wild, dramatic, glorious circus of miracles.

So there you have it, #fivehashtags. As your lawyer, I recommend, in summary, make friends with great people, follow your bliss, live with gratitude, have fun, be great, and, no matter your occupation, think like an artist.

Thank you, God bless you, celebrate your victory tonight.



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