On March 30, Larry Warren sat in his sixth floor office at the Old City Hall building that overlooks the Cedar River and blooming cherry blossoms scattered across downtown, feeling overwhelmed. While his work load was light, his emotions weren’t. One more day, and 43 years of working for the city of Renton as the city attorney comes to an end.
“I think when I’m all done I’ll have to reevaluate how I’ll feel,” said Warren. “Right now I’m suppressing some of my emotions about it.”
Nearing 70 years of age, Warren said it was time to move on.
“I had to pick a time to do it sooner or later,” he said. “There was a project I wanted to see done, and they [projects] kept on coming. I knew I was never going to get all the projects I wanted to get done. I decided when I turned 70 that was the time.”
Warren began his work at the city in 1974 as a part-time prosecutor and soon moved up as city attorney in 1977 when he was 30 years old.
“I was scared to death,” he said, on being handed the position at such a young age.
In six months, he figured out the ropes and knew he could do the job, but the fear wasn’t completely gone.
“I don’t think it ever becomes not scary to a certain extent because if you do stop being scared, you’ve lost your edge,” he said. “I’m always worried about being prepared and giving the right answers, and being part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Warren’s fingerprints is all over the city. From The Landing to the various parks in Renton, he played a significant role in shaping the city the way it is.
The biggest case he’s tackled by far was Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., a battle Warren describes as a “career case.”
The case revolved around a zoning ordinance that prohibited adult movie theaters, like the respondent Playtime Theatres, Inc., from being located within 1,000 feet from any residential zone, church, park or school. The case went all the way up to U.S. Supreme Court and city of Renton won in a 7-2 vote.
“It was scary and at the same time it was fun,” he said.
For Warren, the thrill of the case came from strategizing so his opponents were kept off balance and were left guessing which side Warren would swing.
“There was an awful lot of strategy that went into presenting the case,” he said. “When we won at 7-2, it was pretty nice. It was the lawyer’s Super Bowl.”
Right after the case, Warren said he was a “hot topic,” and was invited to talk at seminars and received calls from across the nation for his expertise.
After occupying the city attorney seat for over 40 years, Warren has served seven mayors and several council members. He said he’s learned to read people well and adapt to their style.
“Policy is one thing, and the law is another,” he said. “I could be asked to defend the city and a position that as a policy matter was not the best for the city, but that’s not my job. You learn… that every mayor and council member is a different person, and you try and study how they like to receive information. You try and become trusted by each council member and mayor.”
On March 6, Mayor Denis Law proclaimed it to be “Larry Warren Day,” and entrusted him with the key to the city, an honor Warren described simply as “nice” with a humble smile.
According to a city press release, Warren was the recipient of the 2013 Ernest Campbell Award for Excellence in the practice of municipal law, the highest distinction conferred by the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys. He has also been recognized as a Washington Super Lawyer three times by the Washington Law & Politics magazine.
Upon retiring, Warren said he plans to work on his yard (“I’m a frustrated farmer at heart”), spend time with his family, volunteer in the city, and travel.
Shane Moloney, former city attorney for the city of Mill Creek and assistant city attorney for Mercer Island, will replace Warren.