PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Ellen Rosenblum has her work cut out for her.
The retired judge, who takes over this week as Oregon's first female attorney general, will inherit an office suffering from low morale and battered by a string of alleged ethical lapses and botched investigations.
"Professionalism and ethics I like to think are my middle name," Rosenblum said. "We're not going to let those kinds of things happen on my watch."
She promises to bring a cautious and deliberative approach to the office. That's in contrast to the style of John Kroger, the hard-charging former New York mob prosecutor she's replacing on Friday.
Kroger is leaving office six months before the end of his term to become president of Reed College in Portland. He took office in 2009 and shook up the established order in his corner of Salem, shocking a town accustomed to methodically building compromises to achieve change. He brought in new senior officials, launched high-profile official misconduct investigations and pushed an ambitious legislative agenda.
He was widely viewed as a future contender to be governor, but he was dogged by persistent stumbles. A grand jury found that a Justice Department lawyer was untruthful in an environmental case. An investigation into an energy contract that benefited the governor's companion was widely criticized, and a top prosecutor stepped down after deleting emails related to the case. A push to reform Oregon's public records law went nowhere.
Rosenblum said she's ready to tackle sagging morale and the stumbles that tripped up Kroger, even if she hasn't pinpointed the problems and their causes.
"I don't want to put too high marks on my skill set before I get started," Rosenblum said. "But I think this is something that I will be good at, because as a general matter I like people. I want to get to know people."
To get up to speed, Rosenblum has visited Department of Justice offices and begun meeting with senior officials. She took briefing books on a coastal getaway for her 30th wedding anniversary, she said.
"I think Ellen is very aware of the environment that was created over the last 3 1/2 years," said Marc Abrams, head of the union representing Department of Justice lawyers. Abrams has long crashed with Kroger, beginning even before he was elected in 2008.
"She knows coming in that re-instilling a sense of pride...is going to be an important part of her job," Abrams said. "She gets it."
Although Rosenblum has technically held elected office for two decades as a judge, she's stepping into far different territory. The 61-year-old retired from the Oregon Court of Appeals last year after six years on the bench. Before that, she was a trial-court judge in Multnomah County for 17 years and a federal prosecutor.
As a young lawyer in Eugene, she represented author Ken Kesey in a dispute with the filmmaker for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
In her new job, she becomes one of the state's highest-profile officials with a bully pulpit and a budget of more than $400 million. And she will be chief of the state's largest law firm, employing 1,200 people, including nearly 300 lawyers.
Rosenblum handily won the Democratic primary last month and is expected to prevail by a comfortable margin in November over Republican James Buchal, a Portland lawyer. Gov. John Kitzhaber said this month that he would appoint her to fill the vacancy created by Kroger's early departure.
Rosenblum said Kroger's No. 2, Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams, will continue in that job, but she wasn't yet sure about other top leaders. She insists she's not out to tear apart the office and rebuild it in her own vision, at least not right away.
"This is an interim appointment," she said. "I am the attorney general starting on the 29th, but I am very respectful of the fact that I haven't been elected yet. And not only that, I'm even more respectful of how little I know of how things actually work, and who does what, and how they're doing at their particular job. So I don't have a plan to make major changes at the outset."
Rosenblum grew up outside Chicago and moved to the West Coast in 1970 to attend the University of Oregon, where she earned a bachelor's degree and her law degree. Her husband, Richard Meeker, is publisher of Willamette Week, and they have two children.
She's due to be sworn in Friday during a ceremony at the governor's ceremonial office in the Capitol.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.