Mike Schrunk’s Right Hand

The Oregonian had an interesting, and extensive, piece on Norm Frink, noted local prosecutor and right-hand to Multnomah County DA Mike Schrunk.

The piece was interesting. As a former cog in the DA wheel, I’ve had occasion to work under Norm, and even worked with him once on a case (a police shooting, if memory serves). I can attest that he is feared in the office. I can also attest that he’s brilliant. I can attest that he’s not particularly likeable, and yet undeniably impressive. He’s an enigma, even to those who see him daily. While the article notes one of Norm’s friends saying that “what you see is what you get,” the problem is that you’re often not sure what you’re seeing, complicated by the fact that many in the office feel that “out-of-sight is out-of-mind” is the rule to live by with Norm, since getting a note that he wants to see you is normally an event that rates high on the pucker-factor scale.

It’s interesting that the article seems so astounded at the pit-bull reputation Norm has. In my experience working in two different DA’s offices, I found both offices I was in to have a “Norm” personality, and I developed the firm impression that a DA’s office was best-served having someone who would exercise the political will of the DA, since the DA often can’t due to his or her political nature. I also found that there are inherent issues having a Norm, because they acquire (and require) great power to accomplish their mission, usually have a perceived huge ego (whether or not Norm’s ego is really that huge, I couldn’t say, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was), and by their nature alienate people.

I left the DA’s office in part because I didn’t like being inside that pool. Norm was a part of that. But, looking from the outside it, I realize that Norm operates, generally, in the interest of putting the right people in place to get the job done. I don’t always think he succeeds, but as I consider the people that had ascended to higher levels in the Multnomah County DA’s Office (which, generally, involves some sort of stamp of approval by Norm), there are many, many more good prosecutors there than bad. And, compared to the other office I worked in, the quality of professionalism throughout Mike Schrunk’s office is stellar.

Say what you will about our local prosecutor’s office. Despite the fact that I left it, in part, because I didn’t see it as a place that would allow me to be happy in five years, the people that are there now (at least the ones that have been there long enough to develop an understanding of what DA work is about) are, by and large, the best prosecutors you could hope to have. And, say what you will about Norm Frink, good or bad (and, certainly, he deserves some of both), he’s largely responsible for the professionalism of that office and the quality of its people and their work.

Do I like Norm? Not particularly (though I don’t particularly dislike him, either — I don’t know him as a person, but instead as the icon he’s become both within and without that office). I think a lot of people who work with him would say the same thing. But do I respect him? Absolutely. And, again, the same would be said by those who work with him and see how devoted, how talented, and how demanding he is.

2 Comments so far

  1. Rusty (unregistered) on May 29th, 2007 @ 9:35 am

    Couple of additional notes:

    1) Not a story you’re likely to hear anywhere else. There are four levels of attorneys at the DA’s office, levels 1-4. The newbies are all ones, and generally you’re a 1 for about two years or so. The 4’s are all of the trial unit supervisors. The 2’s are the newest among the felony-level prosecutors, and are like the 1’s in the felony pool. The 3’s are all career-types who’ve put in a fair amount of time and shown some skill (generally, it takes at least four years to get there, though some people never do). Anyway, Norm (who isn’t on the scale, since he’s management) showed up one day at a work party we were having at a level 2’s house. The 2 was in Iraq, where he was serving with his Marine unit in the initial invasion, and some other 2’s had decided to throw a work party (with generally 1’s and 2’s in attendance) to help his wife peel decades of old paint and wallpaper off of the walls so the house could be painted. Tough work, but for a good cause. I don’t know that anyone expected to see Norm there; most of us were surprised not only by his appearance, but by his prompt acquisition of a chisel and the effort he put into helping out. I think that says something about Norm that the article doesn’t communicate.

    2) Since people will probably wonder, I left as a level 2. When I left, I was disenfranchised, in part, because I’d been passed over for promotion in favor of several people hired after me, I felt unfairly. All that said, I think that the people promoted, for the most part, were good picks for level 3, and I think it all worked out for the best, so I don’t have any animosity at this point. And, to be honest, though I think I’d be able to perform level 3 work adequately, I don’t know that I was ever cut out for life as a career prosecutor (although, at one point, I though I was), and perhaps the powers-that-be realized that before I did.


  2. bc (unregistered) on May 29th, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

    “It’s interesting that the article seems so astounded at the pit-bull reputation Norm has.”

    I thought that aspect of the article was interesting as well, and I don’t know what she expected a prosecutor to be like. Being a top prosecutor is not for the weak-willed or the weak-minded, and Norm is most definitely not either of those. But neither is he mean just for the sake of being mean.
    I worked in that office for a few years doing research and computer work for them. When Norm wasn’t happy with something, it was pretty clear. But I didn’t see him taking the junior deputies apart just because he could. Having worked in several east coast law firms, I can tell you that ripping up the junior staff for no reason is considered sport by some senior attorneys.
    Most of my work was with the level 1 and 2 deputies, so I didn’t interact with Norm that much, but my impression is that he’s very good at what he does and demands a lot from his staff. As Rusty said, we have a high quality prosecutor’s office and Norm is a big part of that.

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