Wanted: Attorney general for paradise


Herald Writer

It sounds like a far-off land created by Bill Gates.


It is a far-off land, but for Snohomish County native Paul McIlrath the tropical island nation of Micronesia beckons with the adventure of a lifetime. And the Microsoft founder had nothing to do with it.

Sure, McIlrath will have to give up a home near La Conner with a wonderful view of sunsets and evergreens.

But beginning in August, he’ll have a similar sunset view, punctuated by palm trees and white, sandy beaches.

He’ll also trade in his courtroom business suit for a Panama hat, white cotton pants and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.

"That’s the uniform." he joked. "Someone there told me ties were illegal."

Part of the adventure is McIlrath will be a member of a president’s cabinet and in charge of law enforcement for an entire nation.

McIlrath, 45, who grew up in Monroe, is winding up a law practice in Skagit County so he can become the secretary of the Department of Justice for the Federated States of Micronesia, a fledgling nation where English is the national language and the government is modeled after the United States’.

Beginning next month, you can call him Mr. Attorney General.

"It’s tough to leave family and friends and animals and lifestyle behind," he said. "But on the other hand we don’t often get chances to step into a new world, a new life."

He called it "a great adventure."

McIlrath graduated from Monroe High School in 1973. His parents were Northshore School District teachers, and he has six siblings, most living in the area. McIlrath has worked in various locations in Western Washington, and is single, which makes it easier to move.

He spent his senior year in high school as an exchange student in Japan. That’s where he picked up conversational Japanese, a language that will help him in Micronesia’s dealings with its northern Pacific island neighbor.

Germany, Japan and the United States over the years all had a hand in ruling what also was known as Eastern and Western Caroline islands. The U.S. relinquished authority over Micronesia in 1986.

How’d McIlrath fall into the job? He simply replied to a classified newspaper ad.

That’s right. An attorney friend of his in Hawaii saw the ad and called it to McIlrath’s attention.

He sent in a resume and cover letter in January and didn’t think anything about it until late May. That’s when he got a telephone call asking if he was still interested.

"Honestly, it took me some minutes to realize what they were talking about and who they were," McIlrath said.

A telephone interview was set up the next week, and he took the two-day airplane ride to the island of Pohnpei and the largest city, Kolonia, near the capital. Before he knew it, he was standing in front of the Micronesian Congress undergoing confirmation hearings.

Soon he will be accompanying a national president on state business trips, as well as overseeing immigration and labor, national police, litigation and legal advisory departments.

Included in the responsibilities is the operation of maritime patrols to protect Micronesia’s interests in tuna fishing and its environmental concerns.

And there’s lots of maritime area.

Micronesia is made up of four states, 600 small islands located in a swath of Pacific Ocean roughly as wide as the state of Washington and as long as the distance from Everett to Chicago.

About 133,000 Micronesians live on less than 300 square miles of land amid more than 400,000 square miles of ocean where the temperature rarely tops 80 degrees or falls below 70.

His journey to Micronesia started right after high school when he worked in Japan as a translator. Then he spent time with GTE Northwest putting himself through the University of Washington in Seattle. He got his law degree at Tacoma’s University of Puget Sound in 1986.

After that came stints in private practice (with an emphasis on trade, business and international law) sandwiched around work in the prosecuting attorney’s offices in San Juan and Jefferson counties.

He was happy but thought he couldn’t pass up the Micronesian opportunity.

He won’t get rich doing it. The job was posted with a $38,000 annual salary attached. But he gets housing and will probably take a house on the water with the sunset view.

"I’m not doing this for the money," McIlrath said.

Not only will he have to leave family, friends and a lifestyle he loves, his two Scottish terriers, Dulcie and Abby, will have to remain behind because of Micronesian quarantine laws.

And he won’t be getting a lot of visitors from home. The two-day travel time is likely to deter many folks, he said, so he’ll probably rely on the Internet for communication.

McIlrath has committed himself to spend the next three years in Micronesia.

"We don’t often get the chance in mid-life to have someone come knocking on your door saying, ‘You have an opportunity to do something totally unexpected and out of our anticipated plans,’" he said.

Besides, he added, "In some ways I think I may be truly going to paradise."

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail


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