Oregon State Bar Bulletin — MAY 2012
Profiles in the Law
The Deputy DA (for 'Dancing Ace'):
Mark Richman Two-steps His Way into the Legal Profession
By Cliff Collins

Since taking up the hobby in college, Mark Richman
(seen here with Vanessa Adelman) has risen to higher
levels of ballroom dancing.
"It's a lot of fun, so I keep doing it."

Competitive ballroom dancing is prosecutor Mark Richman’s avocation, but he has received more from that interest than just enjoyment: It also led him to pursue a legal career.

During his freshman year in college at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Richman’s interest in dancing was sparked by seeing people swing dancing in the 1993 movie “Swing Kids.” Then an acquaintance told him about ballroom dancing classes, and he tried it out.

“I was hooked right away,” says Richman, who has been a deputy district attorney in Washington County since 2005. He notes that the D.C. area contains several law schools, and, even though he had never had an interest in becoming a lawyer while growing up, when he was in a ballroom dance group he began meeting law students.

At that point, even though he was unsure of what field to pursue, the legal profession started looking like a realistic option for him. After graduating and while doing odd jobs, he rented a room from an attorney friend from college. “Even though he was a civil lawyer, I enjoyed hearing his war stories. I’d seen some mock trials. I liked public speaking and arguing with people. I decided a trial lawyer was what I wanted to be.”

Richman had chosen the university he attended because of its specialized degree offering in international affairs. But once he realized after graduating that law was what he wanted to pursue, he entered George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va., with a clear, new goal: “I went to law school with the intention of being a prosecutor. It’s something I believe in. I’ve always been a follow-the-rules and enforce-the-rules kind of person.”

He also knew that he could practice law anywhere. The day after he earned his law degree, Richman returned to his native Oregon, with a job hunt in mind. He had benefited during law school from two enriching clerkship experiences. One was in the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, where he worked in the homicide unit.

“The U.S. attorney in D.C. acts as a DA,” he explains. In the district attorney’s office in Washington County, “we have 40 attorneys in the whole department. In D.C., we had 51 attorneys just doing homicide, and over 150 in the whole department. It’s a bigger and higher-crime city. There was an AK-47 in every other case I dealt with.”

His other clerkship was in the Deschutes County DA’s office, where Richman “got to do a lot of hands-on trials,” and took a wide variety of cases.

Once he returned to Oregon permanently in 2004, his first job was as a law clerk with Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Julie E. Frantz, a past president of the Oregon State Bar. “She’s the chief criminal judge in Multnomah County, a highly experienced judge and a great person. I worked closely with her.” After almost a year in Portland, Richman landed a job in Hillsboro with the Washington County DA’s office.

“I love it,” Richman says. “It’s great working here, everything I thought it would be. I enjoy working with the county leadership.”

Dancing Becomes ‘Cool’
During college, Richman had chaired the school’s Ballroom Dance Society, and once he hit Portland, he wasted no time in continuing in that activity. He joined the board of USA-Dance Portland, which is part of USA-Dance, the governing body for amateur ballroom dancing competition. He currently serves as chapter president. He also became the youth-college coordinator for that organization, and has served in that role and on the board ever since.

He teaches dancing a couple of nights a week, does some private coaching of competitive couples, organizes competitions and social dances, and enters competitions with various partners whenever he can find the time.

“I’ve risen to middle to high levels of competition,” he says. “I try to keep active. It’s a lot of fun, so I keep doing it.”

The hit TV shows “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” have raised awareness, interest and acceptance of ballroom dancing exponentially, he observes.

“When I first started, not many people knew about it,” he recalls. “People thought it was kind of weird. Now everyone’s talking about ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ” In his college club, participants got excited if a dozen folks showed up. Two years later — after “So You Think You Can Dance” came out — 70 people turned up.

“It was on TV, it was really acceptable. (Ex-pro football player) Warren Sapp and big stars made it look cool and OK to do,” Richman says. Moreover, “The infrastructure was already set up. All the clubs already existed.”

Carla Titus, a friend and fellow competitor from Portland, says everyone who knows Richman calls him “The Dancing Fool,” a nickname he happily embraces and even uses for his personal email address. She says Richman is “a funny guy who’s always cracking jokes,” but also is an accomplished performer who constantly strives to improve his skills.

“He’s always trying to give back to the dance community whenever he can,” such as through leading fundraising and organizing dances. She describes him as eloquent, opinionated and energetic, and says he enjoys sharing stories of his courtroom accomplishments. “He loves his profession. He loves putting the bad guys behind bars.”

At work, everyone knows Richman dances competitively, and — even though it’s a DA’s office — he rarely receives ribbing for it, he says. “People ask about it, how the competition is going. They want to see videos of me dancing. Sometimes people ask me about where to take classes, or they want to learn how to waltz for their wedding. People kind of think it’s cool.”

Richman, who graduated from Beaverton High School, remembers that when he was in the seventh grade, a number of his classmates took a ballroom dancing class taught by a woman in the community — because they had to. “I laughed, because my parents didn’t make me,” he says. “Now I’m the one who competes.”

Still, he is adamant that he has no aspirations beyond the amateur level, either teaching or competing. “I don’t want to go into this professionally. It requires a huge commitment of time.”

Besides, he gets plenty of satisfaction with it now, and anyway, he says the people in the top ranks of amateurs are about as good as professionals.

“Dancing is a hobby,” he says. “One reason I try to limit it is, I don’t want it to be work.”

Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and since 1991 has been a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

© 2012 Cliff Collins

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