How many times have you wanted to respond to your prosecutor’s plea offer with, “are you on drugs?” Apparently, it might be the correct response on occasion, as revealed by an article first published in the Washington State Bar Association’s NWLawyer and reposted at The Puddle. From the perspective of a reader who enjoys made for TV movies on Lifetime, it’s a heart-warming story of survival and redemption.
From the perspective of a person responsible for the lives of other people, it’s a story of massive failure, at many levels. While redemption is good, and a lawyer shaking off the yoke of addiction and surviving is laudable, the lack of recognition of the harm that may have been caused to others is disturbing. Great for the lawyer. Not so great for anyone else. And troubling that neither the lawyer nor the empathetic realize it.
Douglas Wilson “Wil” Miller is a litigator in Seattle with a private practice focused on criminal defense, family law, and personal injury. During his career, he had the honor of working for three remarkable county prosecutors before going into private practice.
His bio omits a salient detail. Between “the honor of working for three remarkable county prosecutors” and private practice, he went to prison. He was a meth addict.
Being a prosecutor certainly made my addiction much more complicated. I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and hypocrisy. And although I knew I desperately needed help, I had no idea where I could get it without losing my job.
And I really didn’t want to lose my job. I loved being a trial attorney and a victims’ advocate.
Being a prosecutor was all I had ever done. I was also really good at it. In nine years of trying cases back-to-back, I rarely lost. Trial work felt completely natural to me — like the thing I was born to do.
Yet, nobody noticed that he was a meth addict? Consider, for a moment, that Miller served as prosecutor in three offices, and no one saw a problem. Miller was “overwhelmed,” but no one saw a problem. Most importantly, Miller was making discretionary decisions about other people’s lives while under the control of meth, and no one saw a problem.
My situation in prison was precarious. After all, I was an openly gay former prosecutor forced to serve my time in the same jurisdiction where I had spent years putting violent felons behind bars. Most of that time I went unrecognized, and I was fine. But there were times when I was recognized by men I had prosecuted for serious violent offenses, and things got dangerous quickly.
Despite the questions swirling about a prosecutor whose meth-addled brain determined how many years other people would be imprisoned, children would lose their parent, Brady material would be disclosed, how many innocent people might be convicted because even a meth-addicted prosecutor can convict people the way our system functions.
It’s wonderful that Wil Miller survived his battle with meth addition and has returned. He had been readmitted to the bar and practices, among other areas, criminal defense. He appears to be “passionate” about helping people. Now.
Miller devotes much of his spare time to providing pro bono legal services to the survivors of domestic violence and serving as a recovery coach to meth-addicted lawyers throughout the country.
Yet, the tale of Miller’s woe is all about Miller’s woe. He claims that if anyone was harmed by his meth addiction it was the state.
If anyone suffered as a result of my meth-influenced trial skills, it was the State, not the defendants. And because of that, I am to this day haunted by the possibility that the victim of a serious crime may not have received justice because of my drug problem.
When it was pointed out that his self-assessment of his competencies and the harm he caused might be questionable, he replied:
I’m pretty sure when you wrote: “meth addicts are somewhat notorious for their poor self-assessments and unwarranted self-esteem,” you meant to hurt me. But I think you might consider how saying things like that might discourage a person addicted to meth from seeking help or trying to quit. You didn’t hurt me. I recovered a long time ago. You hurt them.
The narcissism inherent in this view may well explain why Miller turned to meth in the first place. While his story is all about his fall from grace and redemption, it still characterizes him as the meth-addicted prosecutor who put “violent felons behind bars,” but who now is the champion of “survivors of domestic violence” and “recovery coach to meth-addicted lawyers.” He’s a hero.
Miller says he “recovered a long time ago.” But he has yet to understand and appreciate what his conduct may have done to others, because his story is all about him. It’s all about him.
Even the question about his stupendous lack of metacognitive skill, his absolving himself of any responsibility for harm he may have caused in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion because, well, he only prosecuted the guilty, the “violent felons,” and never an innocent person, and now he’s an advocate for “survivors,” is viewed through the prism of being an attack on his self-esteem.
“You didn’t hurt me.” Who cares about you? It’s not all about you. In fact, it’s not about you at all. It’s about that kid who is now a meth-addict because his father went to trial and lost because you were so self-absorbed and full of yourself that you made a ridiculous plea offer, withheld exculpatory material, let a cop lie on the stand, and never gave it a thought because the only thing in your head was getting that next hit of meth.
When Miller comes to grips with this, perhaps he will have a story that needs to be told, that will inspire drug-addled lawyers to seek help and do better. But as long as he still sees himself as the hero of his own tale of his fall from grace and redemption, he has not yet recovered.
And while he may deserve some applause for his beating his addiction, albeit with the help of prison, and now helping others, it must be tempered by the thoughts of those who Miller conveniently forgets when he recounts his fabulous success. He was a meth-addled prosecutor. It’s not all about his life, but the lives of those ruined by him.