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Tuesday, December 9, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Joel Haggard, 64, land-use attorney

Seattle Times staff reporter

Joel Haggard spent most of his 20s working as a nuclear engineer. But his friends and family say he was born to be what he eventually became: a lawyer.

He was smart and tenacious. He loved to debate. And he had a flair for the dramatic.

"I used to tell him, 'Joel, you've got so much blarney, you couldn't use it in the sciences,' " said John Miller of Mercer Island, a friend since high school.

Mr. Haggard, a longtime Magnolia resident and prominent Seattle land-use attorney for more than 30 years, died Saturday (Dec. 6) after a short illness. He was 64.

He was probably best known as a lawyer for landowners and developers of homes, business parks, shopping centers, golf courses and gravel pits.

"We'd go across the bridge (to the Eastside), and he'd say, 'I did this project and that project and that project,' " said Mary Kay Haggard, his wife of 35 years.

Mr. Haggard also represented neighborhood groups in fights against sewers. And in the late 1980s he helped organize the successful opposition to a proposed county garbage incinerator in Issaquah.

"He had this catalog-type mind," said Richard Pierson, another attorney and friend. "He knew all the politicians. And he had all the regulations committed to memory."

His engineering background provided Mr. Haggard with an advantage in his law practice, said Richard Wilson, another Seattle land-use lawyer. Mr. Haggard spoke the same language as the scientific experts whose analyses of a project's environmental impact often helped determine whether a permit was granted or denied.

"I respected his skills greatly," Wilson said. "He was a big guy with a booming voice. You could always count on him to make a theatrical argument."

Mr. Haggard was born in Portland in 1939 and moved to Seattle with his family as a boy. He attended Seattle Prep, where he was a champion debater. Miller, who met Mr. Haggard when both were students, said he was impressed from the start by Mr. Haggard's intellect and sense of humor.

Mr. Haggard received a bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master's in nuclear engineering from the University of Oklahoma. He moved to Pittsburgh, where he spent four years at Westinghouse's Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, met his wife and brought her home to Seattle.

"He always said he wanted to come back to God's country," she said.

Mr. Haggard received his law degree from the University of Washington in 1971 and moved to Magnolia that same year. He never tired of the view of Puget Sound from his home, said his son, Kevin Haggard of Houston.

Mr. Haggard was president of the Magnolia Community Club in 1979 and 1980.

He didn't talk about it much, but Mr. Haggard's faith was important to him.

"He would not miss Mass no matter where he was," his son said. "Whenever the church asked him to do something, he was right there."

Among other responsibilities, Mr. Haggard served on the Marriage Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

The Oregon Coast, classical music and golf were among his passions. Mike Kalian, a longtime client and sometime golf partner, said Mr. Haggard shot in the 80s and had a great short game: "He was very competitive. He would have been even better if he'd had a chance to play more."

He worked long hours, his wife said, but almost always managed to attend his children's sporting events.

Mr. Haggard served on the Seattle Symphony board. In 1975, President Gerald Ford named him the federal government's representative on the Columbia River Interstate Compact Commission, which works to allocate river water among Northwest states. He was reappointed to the post by each succeeding president.

Mr. Haggard's survivors, in addition to his wife and son, include two daughters, Maureen Haggard of Warsaw, Poland, and Cristin Haggard of Seattle; a brother, Gary Haggard of Lewisburg, Pa.; and two sisters, Andrea Haggard of Chicago and Brenda Haggard of Denver.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 7 p.m. today at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, 3218 W. Barrett St., Seattle.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mississippi Mission in Jonestown, c/o Sisters of Holy Names, 2911 W. Fort Wright Drive, Spokane, WA 99224, or the St. Martin de Porres Shelter, 1561 Alaskan Way S., Seattle, WA 98134.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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