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Scott Lindsay: Seattle city attorney could be fostering pay-to-play environment

(Photo courtesy of Scott Linsday campaign)

The City of Seattle gets sued a lot.

Whether it’s the ACLU filing a lawsuit over homeless sweeps, or Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant getting accused of defamation, these cases are ultimately the responsibility of the city’s highest legal officer, the Seattle City Attorney.

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Currently, Pete Holmes holds that office. He’s up for re-election.

Holmes’ challenger, Scott Lindsay, argues Holmes has been delegating far too many cases to expensive outside counsel, and that’s not even the worst of it.

“I looked, and many of the folks, many of the attorneys, working on these cases, had actually donated political contributions to Pete Holmes’s campaign,” Lindsay told 770 KTTH’s Jason Rantz. “In fact, in two-thirds of the contracts the city attorney’s office has signed just this year, attorneys from those contracts have made donations to the city attorney, to the incumbent, Pete Holmes.”

Obviously, there are far too many cases brought against the city for one man to handle and delegating some cases to outside counsel is a common practice. But Lindsay said Holmes is doling out contracts at an unprecedented scale.

“I started to look into that and it raised a lot of questions, including legal bills of $820-per-hour for some Seattle-based attorneys,” Lindsay said. “And hiring outside counsel to handle matters that almost always historically had been handled in-house by Seattle Assistant City Attorneys.”

A spokesperson for the office of the Seattle City Attorney says the $820-per-hour fee Lindsay references here was the Seattle Employees Retirement System, not their office. They also say that price is an outlier compared to how outside counsel is usually compensated.

Lindsay argues in-house counsel is still cheaper at  $85-an-hour and the over-reliance on outside counsel is likely a contributing factor in the $13.4 million budget shortfall for the Joint Claims Fund.

Lindsay isn’t making the claim Holmes is violating any laws, but he does want to bring more attention to behavior that seems really suspicious.

“Pete Holmes hosted his campaign kick-off on April 5 at Davis Wright Tremaine; the law firm that received the most in payments from the city attorney’s office for outside counsel work,” Lindsay said. “They hosted that [event] at the same time the city attorney, Pete Holmes, was negotiating contracts, two additional contracts, with that firm.”

Holmes has yet to respond to a request for an interview.

You can listen to the full interview with Lindsay here.

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