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Seattle City Attorney won’t step aside in police dealings

After being accused of ethical violations by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has refused to stop representing the city in ongoing negotiations with the Department of Justice.

In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, McGinn’s office blasted City Attorney Pete Holmes for violating attorney-client privilege on multiple occasions by going behind the mayor’s back in dealings with the monitor in charge of overseeing police reforms.

In the email, which was written by a member of the mayor’s legal counsel at his direction, Holmes is accused of violating ethical standards by sharing privileged information with Merrick Bobb, who was brought in as a consultant after a Department of Justice investigation found that Seattle police have a pattern of using excessive force.

“Your letter of today discloses a document that was transmitted to you in confidence, and uses it to undermine your client’s position,” the mayor’s office wrote in the email, which was provided to KIRO Radio by a source that works for the city.

The document in question was a proposed monitoring plan prepared by Seattle Police Chief John Diaz.

In the email, the mayor’s office goes on to say that Holmes removed the words “attorney-client privilege” from the document and sent it to Merrick Bobb as an “alternate statement of the framework for setting specific goals and requirements for the Plan.”

“It appears that you are actively undercutting your client’s objectives in this matter,” the mayor’s office went on to say. “Again, you didn’t consult with anyone in the Executive before taking this action.”

The mayor’s office also questioned why Holmes reached an agreement with the Department of Justice Monday to extend the deadline to submit a proposed monitoring plan.

The settlement agreement between the city and the DOJ required that the monitor submit a proposed plan within 120 days of his appointment on October 30, 2012. The City Attorney’s Office reached a joint agreement with the DOJ Monday to extend Bobb’s deadline by 10 days, to March 7.

According to the email from the mayor’s office, that was done without the city’s permission.

“Executive branch departments are entitled to have legal representatives who respect confidentiality and represent their interests,” the mayor’s office wrote.

The mayor proposed an “ethical screen,” which would force Holmes to hand duties related to police reforms off to an assistant city attorney and screen him off from any confidential information related to those reforms.

A spokesperson for the city attorney released the following statement in response to the mayor’s request.

City Attorney Pete Holmes will not screen himself from representing the City in this case. The City Charter gives the City Attorney supervisory control of all litigation and, although the City has entered a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, this remains a pending lawsuit under the supervision of a federal judge. Mr. Holmes has violated no client confidences or breached any ethical obligations to his client, the City of Seattle.

Last week, KIRO Radio reported on a pointed letter Merrick Bobb sent to the city. Bobb told the city he was “humiliated” after he and his team were questioned about expenses they billed to taxpayers. The expenses included alcohol, alcohol-related items, expensive meals and a $35 Egyptian cotton pillowcase.

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