Norm Vroman the DA of Mendocino County and a Libertarian dies from a heart attack. See the story below:
Norman Vroman -- unconventional D.A.
- Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006
Norman Vroman, the outspoken district attorney of Mendocino County who fought to decriminalize marijuana and once served nine months in a federal prison for refusing to file federal income taxes, died Thursday of cardiac arrest.
Mr. Vroman, whose unconventional personality and positions made him a controversial figure much of his career, was taken to Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa after his heart stopped Tuesday, but he never regained consciousness. He was 69.
He was, in many ways, the perfect top prosecutor for the rugged, mountainous region known as the Emerald Triangle, where marijuana is said to sprout like mushrooms from the forest floor.
He was a tough but compassionate outdoorsman and a staunch defender of the Constitution who left a promising legal career in Southern California for a land where overalls are standard garb.
Born in Los Angeles in 1936, he was given up for adoption three weeks after his birth. He grew up in San Dimas, in San Bernardino County. An industrious youth from the beginning, he drove an ambulance when he was still a teenager and was hired by the Pomona Police Department when he was only 18.
He earned a law degree from the University of Colorado in 1961 and began working for the Los Angeles County district attorney. He was appointed to a judgeship in San Bernardino County by Ronald Reagan in 1971, when he was only 35, said his daughter, Kathryn Vroman Benner.
Mr. Vroman also worked as a private practice criminal defense lawyer in Southern California before deciding he had had enough of the rat race. In 1975, he moved to Willits, where he worked as a cattle rancher, then in real estate.
In 1980, he decided to begin practicing law again, but was determined never to wear a suit.
"He didn't like wearing suits because it represented to him the rat race he had gotten away from," said his daughter. "I remember him actually going to court in overalls."
Mr. Vroman worked in private practice in Ukiah, as a public defender, judge pro tem and as a prosecutor for the Mendocino County district attorney.
In 1991 he served nine months in a federal prison after being convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to file federal income taxes.
"He felt there is nothing in the Constitution that requires you to pay taxes or to file," said his daughter.
Mr. Vroman expressed disgust later that he had to spend more time in prison than some rapists.
In 1997, he found his birth mother in Ohio and was overjoyed to find out he was part Irish. He often told the story about how, on a subsequent visit to Ireland, he wore Irish tweeds and faked an Irish brogue prompting an American tourist to request a picture of him as an example of an authentic Irishman.
He was elected district attorney in 1998, defeating 12-year incumbent Susan Massini, and took office in 1999.
He told The Chronicle at the time that he favored decriminalizing marijuana "because the war on drugs isn't working. If it is a war, we lost it a long time ago."
" He started the nation's first medical marijuana licensing program and stopped police from seizing legal pot gardens and hassling legitimate growers who registered under California law. He eventually started wearing ties again and, in the end, suits, but was forever known in legal circles as "that Mendocino Man" who protected pot growers.
Besides his daughter Kathryn of Santa Paula, Ventura County, he is survived by his wife, Raleigh Page-Russell of Hopland, daughter Melissa Vroman of Glendale in Los Angeles County, son Brandt Vroman of West Linn, Ore., a half sister, Denise Cook, of Lima, Ohio, and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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