Mark Prothero – prominent criminal defense attorney, civic leader, community volunteer and coach – passed away early Saturday morning at his Kent home with family at his side.
Prothero, who waged a two-year battle with lung cancer, was 57.
Prothero is best known as one of the lead defense attorneys in the historic case against Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, from 2001 to 2003. As co-counsel, Prothero brokered a plea deal that spared Ridgway the death penalty in exchange for the Auburn man confessing to 49 counts of aggravated murder.
Monday was subdued at Prothero’s law firm in Kent.
“It’s a shock,” said Greg Girard, longtime friend, colleague and partner at Hanis Irvine Prothero, PLLC. “It’s hard to focus, I’ll be honest. It’s devastating, frankly.”
Prothero had more than 30 years of experience in criminal defense. He was on the Washington Supreme Court’s panel of attorneys qualified to defend individuals faced with the death penalty. He defended those accused of state and federal crimes, felonies and misdemeanors, adults and juveniles.
In addition, Prothero was a frequent lecturer at legal education seminars and recognized for his expertise on scientific evidence, forensic DNA, mental state defenses and the death penalty.
Attorneys who worked closely with Prothero described him as the ultimate professional – caring, compassionate, smart and unflappable.
“He had a wonderfully generous spirit. It pervaded all aspects of his life – the way he practiced law, particularly in the way he treated his clients, which, let’s face it, were always in trouble,” said Todd Gruenhagen, who worked with Prothero on the high-profile Ridgway case and other trials. “He was always able to find positive, redeeming qualities in just about every human being he ever meet.
“He was a giving soul, and that makes it a tough, tough loss to deal with.”
Prothero was a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Washington Defender Association, and the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, serving on its board of governors from 2003 to 2009 and writing six articles for the WACDL publication, DEFENSE.
Prothero also served as a Judge Pro Tem in King County Superior Court as well as Tukwila, Kent, Des Moines, and SeaTac municipal courts.
In 2006, Prothero and his partner, Girard, were named Trial Lawyers of the Year by Presumed Innocent magazine. Prothero also was named a criminal defense “SuperLawyer” by Washington Law & Politics magazine in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The honor recognizes the top 25 criminal defense practitioners in the state as voted on by other Washington attorneys.
“He was always a great mentor to attorneys as well as at our firm,” Girard said. “And when we used to work as public defenders, he was always the one who would help young attorneys.”
Prothero began his career in criminal defense in 1983 by working as a public defender for the Associated Counsel for the Accused (ACA). He began by defending people in the municipal and district courts accused of such crimes as DUI, shoplifting and domestic violence. He moved on to defend juveniles, and in 1987, joined the felony unit.
While at ACA, Prothero also participated in many pro bono projects. He was a member of the Innocence Project Northwest and on the ACA Board of Directors.
“I hold him in the highest regard. He was a terrific lawyer, a terrific mentor to younger attorneys while he worked here,” said Don Madsen, ACA director, who worked with Prothero for 25 years. “He gave back to the community. He cared about the clients he represented.”
Prothero worked on Madsen’s team in his first murder trial.
“He was a hard worker,” Madsen said. “He had a sense of perspective that was a great help to him in trying to figure out what was the best thing for his clients and to represent them to the fullest.
“He could see the other side,” Madsen added. “He could acknowledge what the other issues are, and his strength was he could see the whole picture.”
In 2010, Prothero was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to a position on the Washington State Forensic Investigation Council, which oversees the state’s crime labs. He was the first criminal defense lawyer appointed to the FIC.
Prothero was committed to community involvement. He served on several Kent School District committees and on the board of directors for the Kent Parks Foundation. He also volunteered at local high schools and colleges, speaking about criminal law, and law as a career.
In 2003, Prothero co-founded the organization, Kent Citizens for Water Safety, in a successful effort to save the Kent Meridian pool from closure. In 2007 and 2008, he chaired the Citizens for Kent Recreation and Aquatics Future in working to have a new aquatic and recreation facility built in Kent.
Prothero also was a successful swimmer in the 1970s. He was a record-setting swimmer at Renton High School. He was captain of the University of Washington swim team in 1977 and 1978 and represented the United States in international competitions in Rosario (Argentina), Amsterdam, and Paris. He served on the board of directors of the Husky Swimming Foundation as well as the Pacific Northwest Swimming Board of Review.
Prothero was the successful swim coach at Kentwood High School from 1997 through 2007, earning State Coach of the Year honors in 2003.
“He was a quality coach,” said Dave Lutes, Kent School District athletic director. “He wasn’t worried about money, time and all those other issues. He was there for the kids. (Coaching) was a passion.”
Prothero is survived by his wife, Kelly, and two grown children. Sean, a legal assistant, is the swim coach at Kennedy High School. Marley, a standout high school and collegiate swimmer and one-time assistant coach at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, is the coach of the Kent Swim & Tennis Club.
Prothero also is survived by his mother, Shirley Prothero, and brother, Blake Emery.
“He worshipped his family and supported everything they did,” Girard said. “They’re a tight-knit family. Obviously, they are devastated.”
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said Prothero personified many great things.
“Mark was a loving husband and father. He also was a friend to so many of us in the community because he cared about people and about public service. His life and his values will stand forever as a model for all of us and for the next generation. My heart goes out to his family.”
The Prothero family says there will be no services. There will be a later celebration of his life.