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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington John Lamp dies at 79

Longtime Eastern Washington public prosecutor John Lamp speaks at a news conference in 1986.  (Cowles Publishing)
Longtime Eastern Washington public prosecutor John Lamp speaks at a news conference in 1986. (Cowles Publishing)

A longtime public prosecutor who served Eastern Washington as U.S. attorney for most of the 1980s died last week. He was 79.

A Spokane native, John Ernest Lamp was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Eastern Washington by Ronald Reagan and served in that office from 1981 to 1991.

“It was the best job I ever had,” he told The Spokesman-Review in 2017. “I got involved in some of the Justice Department matters and initiatives and had a few of my own. You can kind of make it what you want.”

During his tenure as the region’s top federal prosecutor, he cracked down on illegal marijuana fields in Eastern Washington using an aerial surveillance program and prosecuted members of the Order and other hate groups.

“John was a tremendous advocate for fairness and an effective justice system that both holds people accountable and is fair,” said William Hyslop, who succeeded Lamp as U.S. attorney from 1991-93 and served again from 2019-21.

Lamp led efforts against drugs as the first chair of the Drug Abuse Awareness and Prevention Subcommittee for the U.S. attorney general, as a member of the White House Conference for a Drug Free America, and a founding member of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council.

Lamp spearheaded a multiyear marijuana eradication program involving federal, state and local agencies that located and seized or destroyed marijuana crops before they could be harvested.

He also had an eye on extremism in the area. In 1985, Lamp told The Spokesman-Review he was worried about the negative image that white supremacists were giving the region.

“I think the communities of Hayden Lake, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane are getting a bum rap as a result of media attention,” he said.

Lamp, of Liberty Lake, died May 25 of congestive heart failure.

Lamp was a graduate of Gonzaga Prep, Washington State University and Willamette University College of Law. He served two years in the Vietnam War as a judge advocate and legal officer assigned to courts-martial for the U.S. Army, for which he received the Bronze Star.

After he was honorably discharged as a captain from the Army, he worked as an assistant state attorney general, focusing on consumer protection and representing public colleges in Eastern Washington.

Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton named Lamp the senior state assistant attorney general in charge of the Spokane office in 1976. As a U.S. senator a few years later, Gorton recommended Lamp for the U.S. attorney position to President Reagan.

Lamp entered private practice in the latter years of his career before gradually retiring. He was a sportsman who enjoyed hunting, sailing, motorcycling and reading history.

“Despite his heavy workload, he really cared about his family and his children,” his ex-wife, Louise Lamp said. John and Louise divorced in 2002, but remained friendly.

He is survived by brothers Don and Chris Lamp, daughter Amanda Lamp and granddaughter Avery. He is predeceased by daughter Victoria Lamp and brothers Robert, Raymond and Tom.

A memorial mass will be held at 11 a.m. June 30 at Saint Joseph Parish in Otis Orchards.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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