A great story

Prosecutor and novelist combines truth and fiction

Tall, handsome man who has a way with words and a love affair with music leaves the rainy Northwest for sunny Southern California and finds success as a writer. He works on scripts for Hollywood studios, interviews - and dates - celebrities and wins raves for his novels.

But after a few years, the shine wears off the bright lights of Los Angeles, and he decides to make a change. He goes back to home state to pursue an earlier goal of law school, and discovers better stories and greater satisfaction in the courtroom, putting away child molesters, meth dealers and cold-blooded killers.

Mark Lindquist

Another novel follows, along with interviews in national magazines and the distinction of being dubbed one of the country's most eligible bachelors.

He works his way up to the top spot at one of the busiest prosecutor's offices in the state and takes over a corner office with a view of the industrial Tacoma tide flats, a worn-out desk and hand-me-down chairs. Personal touches in the Spartan office include a photo from his wedding in Hawaii.

Having found the right woman and the right job, he lives in a historic home near downtown Tacoma and relishes the opportunities ahead.

Kind of reads like a best-seller.

In fact, it's a brief bio of Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist '95. He took over as prosecutor this fall, after Prosecutor Gerry Horne retired. The Pierce County Council voted unanimously to promote Lindquist, 50, to the top spot. He will stand for election next year.

"It's a perfect job," he says simply. "I get to do public service, feel the rush of adrenaline, and enjoy the camaraderie of good people. And you cannot find a job with better stories."

Trying times

Lindquist looks the part of both crime-fighter and celebrity. He stands 6 foot 6, and is self-assured and serious, yet approachable, and has a dry sense of humor.

Being a prosecutor is the only legal job he's ever had. He started as an extern while in law school, and he was hooked. Like most young deputies, he started out prosecuting misdemeanors, and worked his way up, serving in the special assault unit, as trial team chief of the drug unit and eventually chief criminal deputy.

Hundreds of cases over the years have left an impression on him, and many moments stand out - from the stoic bravery of an 8-year-old rape victim on the stand to the frenzy that erupted when a madman opened fire at the Tacoma Mall.

He calls the prosecution of Tacoma Mall Shooter Dominick Maldonado one of his most significant cases. Maldonado wounded seven people, held four others hostage and terrorized thousands more on a busy Sunday before Thanksgiving 2005. He was convicted of 15 crimes and sentenced to 163 years in prison.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist ’95 descends the steps in front of the county jail. Photos by Sara Montgomery.

Lindquist and Deputy Prosecutor Phil Sorensen '86 had a strong case thanks to the work of the Tacoma Police Department. Ensuring a life sentence was important, Lindquist said, because Maldonado was so dangerous - walking into a crowded mall and shooting at strangers.

"The crime had an exceptional impact on the entire community, and I felt that justice in the case would give the community some closure on a crime that had caused so much upset and anger," Lindquist said. "It spooked people about the mall for months."

He admits the job can be wearying, "emotionally overwrought and drama-filled," but he has learned to manage the stress.

"You learn from this job that some people become jaded and some become Zen," he said. "You have to be even-keeled or it makes you crazy. I go home and I talk about it. My wife, Chelsea, loves the stories. And I write about it. That helps keep it in perspective."

He has his hands full. Pierce County still has a disproportionately high crime rate, a shortage of resources and the dubious distinction as one of the meth capitals of the country.

He has a staff of 240 and a budget of $27 million. In addition to the Criminal Division, Lindquist oversees the Family Support Division, the Juvenile Division and the Civil Division. The county has faced a backlog in the courts with fewer judges than it needs, and civil attorneys are clamoring to get on the court calendar

One of his goals is to reduce the number of felons released to halfway houses and work-release programs in Pierce County. He says Department of Corrections should place people where they lived when they were incarcerated.

He's proud that while he was in the drug unit, the number of toxic meth labs in the county dropped 90 percent from 2004, when it was in the top five nationwide for meth manufacturing. There has been a concerted effort by police, prosecutors and the community he said. While the meth problem remains, the danger of small-time dealers cooking up the hazardous drug in the woods and trailers of rural Pierce County has been greatly diminished.

"It’s definitely not for everyone, but I love this job. I always wanted to be in a courtroom. It is high-volume, it is high stress, it is high-drama. It’s also a lot of fun.”
Mark Lindquist ’95

One of the few things hanging in his office is a plaque given to him by his colleagues in the drug unit, bearing the message, "The druggies will miss you."

He is quick to give credit to his colleagues.

"All the attorneys, including the top staff, are excellent trial attorneys," he said.

Among them are several graduates of the law school including Assistant Chief Criminal Deputy Phil Sorensen '86, Chief of Staff Dawn Farina '88, Chief Criminal Deputy Mary Robnett '91 and Chief of the Family Support Division Sarah Richardson '95.

Life before law school

Though Lindquist said he always wanted to be in the courtroom, he didn't take a direct route.

After graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in literature and cinema, he made a living as a writer, working on scripts for Hollywood studios, freelancing articles and publishing novels.

He interviewed celebrities such as Drew Barrymore ("charming and not-at-all spoiled" and Goldie Hawn ("hilarious and upbeat") and moved in celebrity circles. A star in his own right after the success of his books, he was grouped with other contemporary writers including Bret Easton Ellis ("American Psycho") and Jay McInerney ("Bright Lights, Big City") as part of the "Literary Brat Pack."

But he was "burned out on screenwriting," and gave up what sounds like a glamorous life.

"It seems glamorous when you're in your 20s," he says.

He moved to Tacoma and swapped his screenplays for law books. He continued writing, and he was featured in Details, Vanity Fair and numerous other publications. And yes - he really was one of People Magazine's "100 most eligible bachelors" in 2000.

Though he says his books aren't autobiographical, he definitely writes what he knows, and he draws on real-life experiences for themes and characters. "Sad Movies," was a fictional account of his experiences as a studio writer, and "Carnival Desires" is about a young man trying to jump out of the Hollywood Fast Lane.

"Never Mind Nirvana" centers around a former grunge musician-turned-prosecutor and is set against Seattle's electrifying music scene.

And the most recent, "The King of Methlehem," is about a cop and prosecutor working to catch the biggest meth dealer in Pierce County. Parts of the story and some traits of the characters resemble Lindquist and the cases he's tried. Anyone who has spent any time in the Northwest will recognize names and places throughout his latest novels.

He doesn't do a lot of research for his novels, but he compulsively takes notes, on yellow pads, napkins or scraps of papers, so he can remember details that fit into a story.

Work at the prosecutor's office and writing have taken over his life, he said.

Lindquist talks about his experiences in his sparsely decorated office. His novels are among the books on his shelf.

"A lot of my hobbies have fallen to the wayside," he said. "I used to snow ski, play tennis, sail...I don't have time for it anymore."

He continues to be an avid reader and says music is the "greatest of the arts." He listens to old favorites like R.E.M., U2, the Replacements and Nirvana.

"My wife Chelsea is pretty hip and keeps me up to speed on new music," said Lindquist, who for years lived in a downtown Tacoma loft previously owned by Nirvana's Krist Novoselic.

But he's not complaining. He's grateful to have two jobs he loves and to live in a town that feels like home.

He's never had to campaign before, but he's already started working to keep his job. He says it comes naturally to him - "listening to people talking to people" which is what he's always done as an interviewer and investigator.

Lindquist has worked with the law school on recruiting students and graduates. He encourages anyone interested in trial work to apply for externships with his office.

"We view our externships as nine-month job interviews. We look at them as potential deputy prosecutors," he said. "The best way to get a job here is to be a good intern."

And externs soon learn if it's the path they want to pursue.

"It's definitely not for everyone, but I love this job," said Lindquist, who intends to try at least one case a year even as the elected prosecutor. "I always wanted to be in a courtroom. It is high-volume, it is high stress, it is high-drama. It's also a lot of fun."

By Katherine Hedland Hansen

Winter 2009-10