More than a thousand people from King County and beyond flocked to the University of Washington on Saturday to bid a final farewell to one...
More than a thousand people from King County and beyond flocked to the University of Washington on Saturday to bid a final farewell to one of the area’s most beloved citizens.
Norm Maleng, King County prosecutor for 28 years, was lauded for his commitment to justice, his honesty and his caring for others. The tributes at the UW’s Hec Edmundson Pavilion rang with grief but also with gratitude for the way Maleng touched his community in the decades before his unexpected death May 24 from cardiac arrest. He was 68.
“He was the heart and soul of justice,” said Gov. Christine Gregoire. “He was everybody’s mentor. … From Norm, you would always learn something. It was his best judgment, and it was always right on.”
Gregoire, like all of the speakers, spoke of Maleng’s warmth and caring and thanked his wife, Judy, and son, Mark, for their support and “for sharing him with the state of Washington.”
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“He was a blessing to the entire state of Washington.”
Dan Satterberg, Maleng’s chief of staff for 17 years and now acting prosecuting attorney, also focused on Maleng’s family support and the way he opened himself to others.
Maleng, he said, often sat with crime victims and told them simply that he was sorry. It came from a man who lost his 12-year-old daughter, Karen, to a sledding accident in 1989.
“They could see that this was a man who had been through grief, and it made them strong,” Satterberg said. “He brought them hope in the midst of hopelessness.”
Satterberg said Maleng, a deeply religious man, believed in angels and that Karen watched over him every day.
“Norm said Karen’s death taught him so much about death and about life,” Satterberg said. “His grief became his shield. He said, ‘There is nothing anyone can do to me that can hurt me now.’ And he felt that strength to do good.”
Like many, Satterberg marveled at his boss’s unfailing optimism and compassion. “He was full of love and disregarded whatever risks there were in opening his heart,” said Satterberg.
Dozens of police officers and firefighters attended the memorial service in dress uniform. Outside the pavilion were two Seattle Fire Department trucks with ladders extended to form an arch, a traditional salute to a fallen comrade. And a variety of those attending shared their feelings as they filed into the pavilion.
“He just made everybody, no matter what level they worked at, feel important and worthwhile,” said Sarah Ruwe, who worked as a legal assistant in the prosecutor’s office for 3-½ years. “He always made a point to say hello and learn everyone’s names.”
Cheryl Terry was also among those paying their respects. She came to know Maleng after the death of her husband, Seattle police Officer Antonio Terry, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1994.
“Our family has appreciated the support of the prosecutor’s office so much,” she said. “He [Maleng] had a 100 percent commitment in following through on justice for each and every case. I just wanted to pay my regards.”
Maleng served eight terms as prosecutor, often winning re-election by enormous margins. His steady hand and wisdom set examples of leadership and courage for legions of attorneys, friends and King County citizens, many said.
“He had a heart and showed me how you can have a heart and still be effective,” said Randy Gaylord, the prosecuting attorney in San Juan County and president of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “When Norm spoke,” he said, “people listened.”
Maleng was widely known for instituting important legal reforms and new approaches to prosecution.
He helped persuade the state Legislature to pass the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981, which standardized sentences and plea bargaining. He instituted a tougher approach to sex offenders, which led to the state’s system of registering convicted offenders after their release. He started a special unit to prosecute sexual assaults and domestic violence, and he responded to the many public complaints about car thefts with a unit to go after the most prolific thieves.
He also helped establish a special drug court, one of the first in the nation, that waives prosecution if the offender follows a strict plan of drug testing and counseling. Studies show the approach reduces repeat offenses and cuts jail costs.
During his nearly three decades in office, Maleng oversaw prosecution of some of the highest-profile cases in the county’s history: the Wah Mee massacre in 1983, the slaying of Seattle attorney Charles Goldmark and family in 1985; and the Green River serial murders that culminated in the sentencing of Gary Ridgway in 2003.
Yet the prosecutor managed to touch people on a personal level, to integrate the many roles he seamlessly played in life.
Mike Vaska, a Seattle attorney who attended the memorial, worked for a while as a special deputy in Maleng’s office. His last memory of Maleng was during a time when he was interviewing for a job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We talked about the importance of justice and separating it from politics. He was an embodiment of that. … He was a shining example of how you can do both. When it came to prosecuting and pursuing justice, he was absolutely beyond reproach.”
Washington State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge told the audience of how hard Maleng worked for troubled kids: He encouraged education and special programs to get them back on track. He worked with parents and community-service workers.
“He was so proud of those who turned their lives around,” she said. “Norm saved the lives of youths.”
Maleng’s son, Mark, 29, told the audience how his family deeply appreciated the community’s outpouring of condolences and praise since his father died. He also praised his father’s staff for helping build what he called the finest prosecuting attorney’s office in the nation.
“He was humbled by all that you did for him,” he said. “And he was humbled by the courage of [crime] victims.”
He said his father loved his work, but even with all his responsibilities, his family came first. He fondly recalled attending Mariners, Sonics and Husky games with him. He recalled how his father and mother were a team that did much good.
“The greatest honor of his life was to serve as King County prosecuting attorney,” said Mark Maleng. “The greatest honor of my life was to call him my dad.”
The family of Norm Maleng said condolences may be sent in care of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, 516 Third Ave., W-554, Seattle, WA 98104. Contributions in memory of Norm Maleng may be made to one of three charities:
The University of Washington Law School, William Gates Hall, P.O. Box 353020, Seattle, WA 98195-3020; The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 2330 Viewmont Way W., Seattle, WA 98199; Harborview Medical Center, c/o Norm Maleng Fund, 325 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.
Warren King: 206-464-2247 or firstname.lastname@example.org