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How Wil Miller Saved Himself and His Career

Wil Miller Mugshot

That was Wil Miller’s first response that chilly February night in 1999, as a battering ram shredded his house’s entrance door, and a swarm of SWAT officers — elevating their weapons, clad in black physique armor, pounding the ground with their boots — poured into his red-brick Tudor home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

Moments earlier, Miller had been assembly with a business fisherman who stated he was visiting from Bellingham and trying to purchase meth to maintain himself awake throughout lengthy hours at sea. Miller had bought this man medicine on three events in January, and now he was again at Miller’s house for extra.

When his door crashed in, Miller initially thought he was being robbed: Medicine and money have been in his residence, and drug-deals-turned-robberies have been widespread.

The fisherman is again with an armed posse!

The reality may need been worse.

“The man from Bellingham” wasn’t a fisherman; he was an undercover police officer. And Miller wasn’t a profession drug vendor; he was a veteran prosecuting lawyer.

Miller raced towards his attic, glimpsing the officers shifting via his front room, their footfalls shaking the partitions. He almost crested the steps however was tackled by an officer, who aimed a gun inches from Miller’s face.

Cornered and coated in sweat, Miller wasn’t about to maneuver. Aid washed over him as he closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and targeted on one ineffaceable thought: It’s over, lastly.

Miller wasn’t simply dealing medicine. He additionally was hooked on meth, and he wanted an intervention, even when it got here by the hands of arresting SWAT officers. Nonetheless, this wasn’t Miller’s all-time low. He was later homeless, disbarred, and imprisoned. He was a pariah, a cautionary story, an ignominious determine whose story crammed the marbled halls of the King County Courthouse for many years.

How Miller went from a profitable lawyer to an addict dealing medicine out of his house is prime supply materials for a Netflix unique collection.

However that’s not how Miller’s story ended.

“When I look back on it, it’s hard to believe it’s me,” Miller recalled from the house he shares together with his husband of six years, Michael Nikolaus. “I feel like it’s somebody else’s story. I was so lucky to find my way back. Anybody can get sucked into addiction. But there is a way back. If you’re smart, you won’t do it in such a public way, like I did.”

Spend a couple of minutes looking the web, and you can see Miller’s reserving photograph, taken after his arrest that night in 1999. The mugshot presents a menacing visage: close-cropped brown hair, stern goatee, pursed lips, and piercing stare. Current-day Miller, 56, is match and photogenic, with a trendy haircut; well-groomed salt-and-pepper beard; and type brown eyes framed by chunky, black-rim glasses.

Born in 1962 to conservative, upper-middle-class mother and father — his dad was a vice chairman at Worldwide Phone & Telegraph; his mother was a homemaker — Douglas Wilson “Wil” Miller was one among 4 brothers raised in a gated, suburban group in Kinnelon, New Jersey. The household later moved to North Carolina when his father’s employer relocated.

After highschool, Miller earned bachelor’s levels in Germanic Languages and Communications at Boston College, then studied regulation at Duke College, graduating in 1988.

Miller moved to New York Metropolis and labored within the Brooklyn District Lawyer’s Workplace, the place he was assigned to prosecute individuals charged with intercourse crimes, baby abuse, and home violence. He labored alongside one other new lawyer, David Zapolsky; that they had desks close to one another, shared courtroom calendars, and turned shut associates.

“Wil was the most comfortable in the courtroom of any of us,” defined Zapolsky, who moved to Seattle within the mid-1990s, and now works at Amazon’s headquarters as a senior vice chairman and common counsel. “He was a gifted trial lawyer with a tremendous humorousness and wit. It was an incredible first line of protection when making an attempt to cope with all these critical points.

“Wil had a big personality, he was dramatic, and he made an incredible emotional connection to the cases he tried,” Zapolsky continued. “Juries would empathize with him, which was one reason he was so good. I was more effective by removing the emotion and saying, ‘These are the facts, this is the evidence, and this is the conclusion you have to draw.’ Wil helped me learn to search myself, use what’s there, and project that to jurors.”

Miller later took a job on the Queens D.A.’s workplace, the place he spent three years as a trial lawyer within the particular victims’ bureau and supervised investigations.

In 1995, Miller moved to Seattle when he obtained a job with the King County Prosecutor’s Workplace. He was assigned to the Juvenile Courtroom unit. From the start, he shared an workplace with Melinda Younger, then 25 years previous and a brand new prosecutor.

“He was kind of like my mentor,” recalled Younger, who’s now a King County superior courtroom decide. “They assigned us some pretty serious felonies. It was nice to have somebody who knew what he was doing, and who could show you the ropes.”

Miller and Younger labored lengthy hours, lived blocks away from each other in Queen Anne, and met two or 3 times every week for dinner. They typically made the morning commute to the courthouse collectively.

“He was a warm, funny guy,” she stated. “We were really good friends, no doubt about it.”

That modified when Miller was transferred to a supervisory position overseeing new prosecutors in a unit away from Younger’s division.

Former King County prosecutor Wil Miller was arrested in 1999 when he bought medicine from his Ballard house to an undercover police officer. This was his official mug shot taken whereas officers processed his arrest. Photograph courtesy Wil Miller.

“The summer of 1997 was when I first started going out at night,” recalled Miller. “Up until that point, I was trying cases all day, and preparing cases all night. Suddenly, it was, like, ‘Oh, I just tell these kids what to do all day, then I go home, and now I have to fill the evening somehow.’”

He was a clumsy presence in Seattle’s homosexual nightclubs, an inelegant conversationalist whose concept of an ice-breaker was speaking concerning the sex-crimes instances he had tried.

In line with Miller, crystal meth was prevalent in a lot of the homosexual nightlife scene, and he stated snorting the drug helped him slot in. Meth’s attraction was unctuous: A dose or two might hold him awake a whole weekend, recalled Miller; weight-loss was a welcome aspect impact, and meth instilled superb self-confidence.

It additionally helped him bond with a person he met at a membership. Based on Miller, his then-boyfriend was an unemployed, recovering heroin addict who had turn into hooked on meth. He moved in with Miller (who owned a house in Ballard) weeks after they met.

“I was emotionally and socially inexperienced, very lonely, and in love with someone I trusted completely,” Miller stated. “I did things I shouldn’t to try and keep him interested. One of those things was agreeing to do meth with him. It was a moment of weakness on my part, and one for which I would pay dearly.”

Miller’s habit to meth fortified him nefariously, and his work efficiency suffered. Typically, he was late to the workplace, and colleagues discovered him unreliable. Such was the case one spring day in 1998, when Miller, late for work, was busted on the King County Courthouse throughout a routine safety examine. A guard opened Miller’s briefcase, and a red-and-white Altoids tin spilled out and clanked towards a tabletop. The container was a Trojan Horse of types, used to ferry unlawful cargo: a baggie full of crystal methamphetamine, a pipe, a scale, and X-Acto blades.

It was a scandalous occasion that fed workplace gossip, and apprehensive Miller’s dearest buddies and colleagues.

“I was very sad,” stated Zapolsky, who, alongside together with his spouse, Lindsay Brown, helped Miller get settled after he arrived in Seattle. However as Miller’s drug use ramped up, he and Zapolsky turned distant. “I felt like I lost a close friend,” Zapolsky stated. “I didn’t want to reward (his drug addiction) with overtures of friendship.”

Younger, too, knew her colleague and estranged pal was in hassle. She determined to go to Miller one night at his house. Younger recalled: “That was sort of like my last stand: ‘Look, I’m your friend, and I know we haven’t done much together in a while. But do you need help? What’s happening here?’” Younger stated Miller was dismissive. “He wasn’t talking to me. He didn’t say anything to me.” As she was leaving, Younger stated, Miller’s boyfriend pulled her apart to inform her rather a lot was happening that she didn’t find out about, and she in all probability didn’t need to become involved.

That was sufficient for Younger to again off, and a few years would cross earlier than she would reconnect with Miller.

You may assume a prosecuting lawyer busted for medicine on his option to courtroom can be trigger for swift termination and disbarment.

Not essentially.

Hoping to keep away from a battle of curiosity, the King County Prosecutor’s Workplace yielded the matter to the State Lawyer Common’s Workplace, which spent eight months investigating. Miller hadn’t been charged, which means his identify wasn’t within the media. He give up his job on the prosecutor’s workplace, broke up together with his junkie boyfriend, and turned a felony protection lawyer.

In November 1998 (six months after the courthouse drug discovery), the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace declined to cost Miller for 2 causes: unwitting possession — Miller’s ex-boyfriend got here ahead to say possession of the drug paraphernalia — and investigators believed it was uncertain Miller would stuff medicine into his briefcase figuring out he should cross via safety each workday.

“In retrospect, I really wish I had been charged, because my case probably would have gone into Drug Court, where I would have gotten the kind of life-saving intervention I needed,” Miller stated.

Wil Miller

Miller credit years of intensive cognitive behavioral remedy for serving to to maintain him sober since 2001. Miller’s regulation license was reinstated in 2010, and he now works at Story Regulation, a collaborative household regulation agency in Bellevue.

Although most legal professionals and judges on the courthouse knew it was Miller who was discovered with medicine in his briefcase, Miller nonetheless wasn’t accused publicly as a result of he wasn’t charged.

That modified when a number of dozen public-defense attorneys in King County penned an editorial to The Seattle Publish-Intelligencer claiming Miller would have embarrassed the Prosecutor’s Workplace if he had been charged, and the argument of “unwitting possession” was a weak protection not often given credence by prosecutors when deciding whether or not to file expenses. The editorial, revealed days after the lawyer common declined to cost Miller, recognized him by identify.

“The blowback was huge,” Miller stated. “Up until then, my name is out of the press, I’m still getting clients, but I’m still addicted to meth. Seattle Weekly (published) a big article with my picture (three weeks later). Everything fell apart. I couldn’t earn my meth money as a (criminal defense) lawyer anymore.”

Three months later, Miller was arrested at his Ballard house when SWAT officers stormed his residence. He was jailed.

Miller arrived to his arraignment in shackles, linked to a single-file line with different inmates. He wore a pink, jail-issued uniform and appeared — haggard, unshaved, and within the throes of meth withdrawal — earlier than the decide. He observed the gallery was crammed with most of the protection attorneys who had written the P-I editorial.

“I think they enjoyed seeing me taken down a notch, and I think that’s totally understandable,” stated Miller.

He was charged with 5 felony violations (later decreased to 4 expenses). Miller posted bond and walked out of jail. “The day after I was released, I took a shower, put on a suit, shot up, and walked back into court to try a felony burglary trial,” stated Miller. “That’s the kind of insane confidence that meth can instill in you.”

However being publicly recognized as a meth-addicted lawyer meant his shopper base dried out. He incurred debt and fell behind on primary payments. He might not afford the mortgage on his home, so he bought it.

Miller’s trial started in July 2000, and he served as his personal co-counsel. “I was a walking bag of skin with dead eyes stretched tight over a skeleton, an emotional wreck that kept falling apart in front of the jury,” he stated. He was discovered responsible of three counts of supply of a managed substance, and one rely of tried supply of a managed substance. He was sentenced to 4 years in jail, however remained free for greater than a yr whereas he appealed his sentence.

Miller tried to get clear whereas free — first at a rehab middle in Japanese Washington, then at a sober-living facility in Seattle. He labored part-time cleansing rooms at a Capitol Hill mattress and breakfast earlier than he returned to the East Coast. At 40 years previous, Miller was unemployed and dwelling together with his mother and father in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He accomplished six months of rehab and was meth-free for greater than a yr. However he additionally knew his appeals would run their course, and he must report back to jail sometime.

“I finally hit my rock bottom,” Miller defined.

He returned to Seattle in September 2002, withdrew his appeals, and started to serve his jail sentence.

Miller spent his first 18 months at Cedar Creek Corrections Middle in Thurston County, the place he labored because the jail’s librarian. As an brazenly homosexual former prosecutor imprisoned alongside a few of the individuals he put away, it was unsurprising when he was acknowledged, and even threatened, by different inmates.

“I would be grabbed in the middle of the night and thrown back in solitary by the guards,” Miller stated. “They would say, ‘There is a plot to kill you.’ I would be put on a bus in a chain gang, sent out to the next prison, and it would start all over again. I saw all of the state, prison by prison.”

He recalled one occasion at a jail in Spokane: An inmate Miller had prosecuted, who was serving a 15-year sentence for a violent crime, noticed Miller, and taunted, “Hey, Mr. Po-lice-man! Not so tough now!” Miller stated the person charged him, guards intervened, and Miller was moved again to solitary confinement for his security.

Whereas incarcerated, Miller wrote letters to household, associates, and former colleagues that described jail life and sobriety in ways in which have been remorseful, candid, and even humorous.

King County Courthouse

The King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. Photograph by Todd Matthews.

“The letters were amazing,” stated Zapolsky. “Any one letter could be a story on This American Life. He had this incredibly smart, witty, funny personality — even in prison. It was like Orange Is the New Black — making observations about people (in prison), how to survive. We saw the return of the old Wil. The letters (showed) how lucid he was.”

Zapolsky and his spouse even traveled the 170 miles round-trip to a jail in Shelton to go to Miller. “He was a changed person when I saw him in prison,” stated Zapolsky. “There was a disconnect of seeing this person I had loved as a friend — and then lost, almost as if he died — back again, and in this strange context.”

Younger, Miller’s former colleague and mentee on the King County Prosecutor’s Workplace, additionally acquired correspondence from her estranged good friend.

“He wrote me one letter with a picture of the two of us when we used to hang out,” Younger recalled. “I didn’t write him back. I didn’t really want to get sucked into the drama of it all. I just kind of let it be.” It wasn’t till Miller left jail and was sober for a few years that the 2 reconnected.

Miller was launched in September 2004, having served half of his sentence. The Division of Corrections allowed him to serve the stability of his parole in North Carolina, the place he can be away from the Seattle drug scene and nearer to his household.

After jail, Miller referred to as an previous good friend from Duke, Mary Mandeville, an lawyer dwelling in North Carolina.

“He sounded like my dear friend,” defined Mandeville. “He was honest. He never blamed anybody else for what happened. He was paying his dues, taking his lumps, and moving forward.”

Mandeville reached out to a former colleague in Wilmington, North Carolina, to see whether or not he knew of anybody who would think about hiring Miller. Miller obtained an interview, and he was employed as a receptionist at a small regulation workplace, ultimately working his method as much as secretary, paralegal, and workplace supervisor.

“He was a great deal,” she stated. “I mean, you are getting a lawyer who has lots of courtroom experience — he’s been on the prosecution side; he’s been on the defense side — and he’s a Duke Law graduate. He’s a smart guy. That’s an awful lot of bang for your buck.”

Miller realized how a lot he missed being an lawyer. He participated in North Carolina’s Lawyer Help Program, which helps attorneys dealing with drug habit, and began to harbor an completely wild concept: He needed to follow regulation once more in Washington state.

“As all prosecutors do, I wanted the final word,” stated Miller. “It was important for me to go back. I was not content letting the story end the way it did.”

It was a wishful notion — anticipating anybody handy a regulation license again to a disbarred lawyer and ex-convict with prior felonies and a public flame-out. However Mandeville, Zapolsky, and others provided encouragement.

In spring 2009, Miller flew to Seattle to argue the most important case of his life and seem for an intense, daylong character and health listening to to persuade a 10-member Washington State Bar Affiliation panel that he ought to be allowed to follow regulation once more.

“I shored up every angle and did everything possible to convince the Bar I was a safe bet,” Miller defined. “I was in voluntary drug testing for years (prior to the hearing), with the results going directly to the Bar. Members of the Lawyer Assistance Program in North Carolina wrote letters on my behalf. I told the Bar it should readmit me on three years’ probation, with constant monitoring for three years, and reports from a psychologist all along the way. I wanted them to know I agreed they were taking a risk on me, and they should put all kinds of safeguards in place. I gave them every chance for an out if they didn’t think it was going to be safe.”

“His testimony was rippingly honest,” recalled Zapolsky, who attended the listening to and testified on Miller’s behalf. “He didn’t try to cover over his own culpability. He was very upfront about how it was his fault.”

The listening to was adopted by one other intense spherical — specifically, taking the Bar examination once more. The essay-based examination took three days to finish. “At age 48, it was brutal,” stated Miller.

Brutal, however value it. The Washington State Bar Affiliation reinstated Miller’s license in June 2010.

When SWAT officers stormed his residence that chilly night in 1999, Miller’s first intuition was to cover. At present, Miller’s first intuition is disclosure.

Almost 20 years have elapsed since Miller’s spectacular implosion, sufficient time for him to go from meth habit in his 30s to drug-free and accountable in his 50s. Over the course of two 90-minute interviews at his residence, Miller mirrored on many elements of his life:

• On being arrested: “The luckiest thing that ever happened to me. It was the only intervention I was going to get. It started the chain of events that saved my life.”

• On spending two years in jail: “I’ll always value the time I spent in prison, where I was safe from temptation during those early, fragile years of recovery. I was never going to afford the two-year, inpatient drug rehab I needed. Prison served that role in my life. I was lucky to go. It was one of the best experiences in my life.”

• On the influence his meth habit had on others: “I carried around shame about things I had done to other people while using meth — worrying family and friends, embarrassing co-workers, disappointing clients, and enabling the addictions of other meth addicts.”

Miller credit years of intensive cognitive behavioral remedy for serving to to maintain him sober since 2001.

Wil Miller and Michael Nikolaus

Miller and Michael Nikolaus married in 2012.

In June 2013, Miller and Nikolaus moved to Seattle, and Miller teamed with the Washington State Bar Affiliation to share his habit expertise, and how the difficulty impacts attorneys, particularly. That culminated in a convention presentation to 100 individuals (and streamed reside by way of the Net to a few thousand extra) in April 2014, adopted by a canopy story Miller wrote for the June problem of the Bar Affiliation’s month-to-month journal.

“The article was my closing argument — this is what happened, and why it happened,” Miller stated.

Miller is working towards regulation once more, and now works at Story Regulation, a Bellevue collaborative household regulation agency.

“Frankly, he’s braver than I would have been,” Younger stated. “I might have began over someplace the place individuals wouldn’t have recognized all of that until I informed them . . . It’s extra than simply Wil getting over his habit. It’s Wil getting his regulation license again, and then dealing with the lion and coming again to Seattle. It’s superb. When he speaks in entrance of individuals, it’s one of many extra compelling issues I’ve seen, and individuals are impacted by it. The day I noticed the chance for Wil to be readmitted, I assumed this could possibly be a tremendous redemption story, and it’s.

“On the one hand, he got disbarred for reasons that had nothing to do with him practicing law, and had everything to do with addiction,” added Younger. “So, if he addresses the addiction, then being able to practice law again makes sense.”

Miller additionally travels all through america sharing his story with law-school college students and Bar Affiliation members.

That’s how he discovered himself chatting with a number of dozen aspiring attorneys at Seattle College Faculty of Regulation just lately, clicking by way of a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation — embarrassing mugshot, scandalous newspaper clippings — and recounting his story. Miller has given this presentation typically, nevertheless it’s an emotional retelling each time. He chokes up at occasions, and many college students reply — forgetting their smartphones, their consideration targeted on Miller.

Hazelden Betty Ford Basis outreach supervisor Samantha Finnie related with Miller final summer time to ask him to share his expertise with employees on the group’s remedy facility in Newberg, Oregon.

“Wil’s story resonates with the people we serve at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation,” Finnie stated. “He is living proof that addiction does not discriminate and that a recovery lifestyle is not only possible but amazingly attractive. By sharing his own story, Wil is able to humanize addiction and recovery in a way that makes him an effective public advocate. Wil’s story makes the case for second, third, and fourth chances. When folks see and hear people like Wil — who defies the negative stereotypes associated with addiction — they begin to let go of the stigmatized views that hold back progress on this public health issue.”

When the Betty Ford Basis opens an outpatient facility at Overlake Medical Pavilion in Bellevue this yr, Finnie stated she is going to “connect with Wil even more. We share a commitment to recovery advocacy, so I think there will be lots of opportunities to amplify his hopeful, stigma-smashing message.”

Miller now embraces his position as a cautionary story.

“When you are a meth addict, you believe you can’t recover because you don’t know anybody who has recovered,” Miller stated. “But a lot of people recover and go on to have normal, healthy lives. If those people don’t start coming out of the shadows and showing the recovery to the world, then that lie that you can’t recover from meth addiction is going to be the greatest obstacle to recovery. I want to do my part to change that. People helped me get my license back, gave me places to live when I was in recovery, got me through prison. Now it’s my job to help.”

When a mass of SWAT officers stormed into Wil Miller’s Ballard house and arrested him for promoting medicine, it wasn’t the primary time a gun was pointed at his head.

After graduating from Duke Regulation Faculty in 1988, Miller started his skilled authorized profession in district attorneys’ workplaces in Brooklyn and Queens, the place he prosecuted intercourse crimes, tried instances within the particular victims’ bureau, and supervised investigations. The workload was as demanding because it was rewarding, and the town’s intrinsic bustle weighed on him. One late-night incident in February 1991 helped sway his choice to go away New York.

New York Post Wil MillerMiller and his then-boyfriend have been strolling close to Prospect Park when a person stopped them, pointed a gun, and demanded their cash.

Miller recollects reaching into his pocket for money, whereas his boyfriend fumbled for his pockets, which dropped to the bottom. The robber panicked, kicked Miller’s boyfriend, and shot Miller within the head. Miller fell to the sidewalk and blacked out momentarily. When he regained consciousness, Miller appeared as much as see the assailant operating away.

Miller was transported to a close-by hospital, the place he discovered that the bullet had grazed his left temple. His wound was cleaned, and he was launched a couple of hours later. A New York Submit reporter briefly interviewed Miller, whose bandaged face appeared on the entrance web page of the newspaper’s weekend version beneath the headline, “Miracle Man! Asst. DA walks away after being shot in the head by mugger.”

“For two days, every (convenience store) I went to in New York City had the Post and my picture on it,” stated Miller. “People had me filling out Lotto cards, and they were calling me Miracle Man. Monday came, and nobody knew who I was.”

Miller was fortunate — the weapon was an previous, rusty, .32-caliber revolver. However the expertise rattled his sense of security in New York Metropolis.

“When I left New York, I left more enthusiastically in large part because of that experience.” 

 

 


This story initially appeared in 425’s sister publication, 425 Enterprise.