On Monday, Mullen's challenge wasn't in making an articulate case. It was proving his sincerity.
The disbarred attorney, 64, was sentenced Monday after admitting he'd used the legal profession as a means to smuggle heroin to inmates at the Snohomish County Jail.
"I did wrong," Mullen said, his voice soft and small in the nearly empty courtroom. "I did wrong."
Mullen's August 2010 arrest was linked to a drug addiction he said began with a dependence on the OxyContin he was prescribed to control pain after hip replacement surgery. He graduated to using heroin. Before being turned in by an informant, Mullen fed his addiction by sneaking heroin to inmates during attorney visits, and keeping some of it for himself.
Mullen in July pleaded guilty to one count each of felony drug possession with the intent to deliver and trying to introduce contraband inside a jail, a gross misdemeanor.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss said he wrestled with what to do about Mullen.
The man faced a standard punishment of at least a year in prison for the drug possession. He asked for an alternate sentence legally available to many drug offenders, obtaining up to six months of residential drug treatment and years of close supervision instead of incarceration.
Deputy prosecutor Janice Albert said she initially believed treatment was the best alternative. She factored in Mullen's age, his health problems and evidence that he was essentially bullied by drug traffickers and inmates into becoming a drug mule, the prosecutor told Weiss.
On the other hand, she said he engaged in "despicable" behavior by using his lawyer credentials to deliver dope to inmates, even after he was earlier disbarred in 2010 for acknowledged malpractice. Making it worse, after his arrest Mullen told state investigators that he considered smuggling heroin to addicted inmates a "humanitarian" act aimed at reducing their suffering.
"I was horrified" Albert told the judge. She noted that two of the men Mullen has admitted providing heroin were in jail on armed robbery charges. Another was locked up for child molestation.
Weiss said he, too was shocked by Mullen's statements. He said he wanted to be convinced that Mullen was sincere about recognizing he'd done wrong.
Public defender Donald Wackerman said Mullen's comments about a "humanitarian" motive came at a time when his client hadn't yet obtained the clarity of sobriety.
Mullen offered a similar explanation and apologized for the harm done. He told the judge that he's "bewildered" by the damage drugs did to his judgment and character.
Mullen said that since his arrest he has been attending several meetings each week of support groups for recovering addicts.
Weiss said he expects Mullen to continue on that path. The judge also structured the man's sentence so that he can personally monitor his progress. He warned Mullen there is a prison cell in his future if he messes up.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org.