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Retired Spokane Prosecutor Just Can’t Rest His Case Brockett Easing Into Private Practice After Cancer Treatment

The former Spokane prosecutor who helped put thousands of felons behind bars now says his own retirement is cruel and unusual punishment.

Donald Brockett, who retired two years ago after a quarter century as the county’s top law enforcement officer, has found he needs the courtroom more than he thought he would.

Since last December, the 60-year-old Brockett has inched his way back into legal work, taking on several cases part-time for a Spokane law firm.

“I was getting bored, sitting around reading books. There’s only so many days you can play golf,” Brockett confessed Friday, after appearing in court in his new role as a defense attorney.

Brockett is now helping former associate Steve Matthews defend one client accused of burglary. If that case goes to trial, it’ll pit the former head of Spokane County’s prosecutors against his former colleagues.

Brockett also said he’s revitalized after successfully finishing eight months of chemotherapy for colon cancer. Nine inches of that organ were removed, he said.

His doctor told him he’s now a “third stage” recovered patient - “meaning there’s only a 50 percent chance of remission in five years,” Brockett said.

“I say I’m a survivor,” he added. “I tell my doctor the 50 percent (in that group) who see a recurrence of cancer are the ones who give up.”

Brockett got a call before Christmas from Matthews, who was once chief deputy prosecutor in Brockett’s office.

Matthews needed someone to fill in for an attorney going on maternity leave. Brockett agreed, and when the attorney returned, Matthews asked him to stay on.

“As long as it doesn’t get to be full-time, it’s good,” Brockett said.

Since coming back, Brockett’s devoted most of his time to civil law, an area he had little contact with during his 25-year tenure as prosecutor.

His first scheduled trial is Monday in Spokane County Superior Court. Brockett is defending Safeco Insurance Co. and a driver insured by that company being sued by a person injured in an auto accident.

The attorney representing the driver, Roger Felice, hesitated predicting his chances working opposite the new rookie in court.

“He likes to say he’s not very skilled in civil law,” Felice said.

“But I’m not going to take Don’s word for it.”

Spokane Superior Court Judge Paul Bastine said the relentless and aggressive style Brockett had as prosecutor should be an asset in his work as a defense attorney.

“Don’s a very good attorney. And we need all the defense attorneys we can get,” Bastine said.

Brockett said he left the prosecutor’s office “mostly relieved” at leaving behind the turmoil that infighting and office politics had created there.

“Now, two years later, I kind of missed the challenge of representing a side of an issue and making a strong presentation.”

In retrospect, he suspected, even two years ago, he hadn’t turned his back on the law yet.

“When I first got into the law some 33 years ago, I told myself, boy I’m glad I’ve got the kind of job in which I may never have to retire.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo