Prior to elected office, John spent a decade managing his own law firm, representing accident victims and small business clients. He was also involved in several high-profile cases ranging from the federal Salmon-scam cases to the Pierce County Racketeering trials. John represented tribal members in Washington and Oregon attempting to recover their treaty fishing rights. John's considerable trial skills often resulted in his appointment to represent criminal defendants. Several times John was appointed by the courts to represent defendants facing the death penalty. However, John considers his most important trial the representation of Chief Leschi in the historical re-trial of Chief Leschi for murder. Leschi was found not guilty of the murder he was executed for over 100 years ago.
John entered public service as a Tacoma City Council member. Right away he became a leader in protecting the environment and in establishing clean drinking water standards. John led the fight to force the Federal EPA to clean up polluted water wells owned by Tacoma's water utility. He helped bring the first secondary treatment plant to Tacoma's sewer utility and forced Tacoma to withdraw from the W.P.P.S.S. power fiasco.
John was elected Pierce County Prosecutor in 1986, defeating the incumbent. John re-organized the office, cut off political patronage and improved the experience and trial skills of his deputies. John was one of the founding members of Safe Streets of Pierce County, a nationally recognized neighborhood watch program. He served 10 years on their Board of Directors. Recognizing the danger of Meth addiction, John organized the first "Meth Summit" in the State to bring the issue to the forefront of law enforcement. He then helped organize the first "Drug Court" in the State, in an effort to treat the addiction as a disease. Unlike most large county Prosecutors, John personally tried high profile cases including death penalty cases. In 14 years as Prosecutor, John never lost a trial.
After a brutal sex crime in Pierce County, John created the nation's first "Sex Predator Notification Law", later approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. He also was a major participant in the re-writing of Washington's sex predator laws. John's office wrote the nation's first sex predator Civil Commitment law.
John was one of the founding members of the Puget Sound Inn of Court (now the Robert Bryan Inn of Court), an organization of judges, lawyers and law students created to improve the civility, education and ethics of the law profession. John twice served as President of the Inn.
As County Executive, John led an exceptional effort to clean up the County. His program, “Pierce County Responds” cleaned up over 15 illegal dumpsites and won the National Association of Counties highest award. He also fought for funding for salmon recovery efforts, was a leader in the Tri-party Salmon Recovery efforts, and established new setback levies on Pierce County rivers to improve habitat. He was an activist in environmental and land use issues.
John has been recognized throughout the region for his ability to bring people together and to mediate disputes. When Sound Transit was in huge financial trouble in 2002, the Board of Directors, a body consisting of 18 elected officials from both parties and around the region, turned to John to become Chair of the Board. Due to his abilities to bring people together, make things happens and essential fairness, the Board asked him to serve four one year terms. He finally stepped down when Sound Transit’s turnaround was complete and it was awarded national awards for excellence. No other elected Board chair has ever been asked to serve four terms. John stepped down in January 2006. When John took over as Chair, the Link Light Rail line to the airport was less than 10% complete. When he left it was 90% complete.
Deciding that the Northwest needed more tourism, John looked to large sports events. Setting out to build a ”U.S. Open” course, John took on the critics and naysayers and created Chambers Bay golf course. Although no golf course built since 1961 had ever been awarded a U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was awarded both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open just seven months after opening. The course is being paid for golfers, not taxpayers, and the economic impact of the 2015 US Open championship exceeded $130 million. The course has been given dozens of awards but John is most proud of the recognition of the course as in the top five nationally for environmental stewardship.
At Pierce County John oversaw a budget of $900 million a year and 3300 employees. Pierce County was the only county in the State to receive eight perfect Audits during John’s eight years in office. After appointment in 2015 by Governor Inslee, John currently served on the Washington State Executive Ethics Board hearing ethics complaints against Washington State employees.
After leaving office in 2009, John joined his sons, John Jr. and Erik in the private practice of law, representing personal injury victims. John is currently Of Counsel to the law firm of Ladenburg Law Injury Lawyers in Tacoma.
In October of 2019, John and his wife Connie celebrated 50 years of marriage with family and friends. John and Connie have five children, John Jr., Erik, Shannon, Kristen and Mark. All live locally so John and Connie enjoy time with their family and with their eleven grandchildren. Connie is serving as a Pierce County Council Member with one year left in her final term. John and Connie remain active in various community originations and charities in Tacoma and Pierce County.