Special Reports

City will pay for Woodard, Corpuz defense

5 p.m. today: The Tacoma City Council meets in the first-floor chambers at City Hall, 747 Market St.

More than a month after postponing a vote on the issue, the Tacoma City Council appears ready to pledge taxpayer money for the legal defense of two top former city officials at the center of the David Brame scandal.

Council members are expected to vote tonight on a pair of resolutions authorizing the City of Tacoma to spend a total of $775,000 on lawyers to represent fired City Manager Ray Corpuz and retired assistant police chief Catherine Woodard. Both are named in a lawsuit brought against the city by the family of Crystal Brame.

That's in addition to the $1.9 million the city has already agreed to pay another law firm to provide the city's primary defense. And it's despite an initial determination from interim Police Chief Don Ramsdell that Woodard might have acted outside the scope of her job in at least some of the incidents at issue.

"I think we're legally obligated to pay," Councilman Tom Stenger said Monday. The city would have a hard time hiring people if it didn't stand behind them when they got sued, Stenger said. And the city would expose itself to even more possible litigation from Corpuz and Woodard by not defending them now.

"We don't need another lawsuit now," Stenger said.

Several other council members agreed they have little choice but to approve the expenditure no matter how frustrating they find it to spend more money because of Brame, the Tacoma police chief who killed his wife, Crystal, and himself last April.

Neither Corpuz nor Woodard can be defended by the city's main defense firm, Burgess Fitzer, because of the potential for a conflict in legal strategy, officials said.

Councilwoman Julie Anderson persuaded the council to postpone a vote last month on a resolution approving the expenditure of city funds for Woodard's defense because she wanted more time to understand the issue.

Anderson said Monday that she is prepared to vote in favor of the resolutions.

Even though the city is paying for the initial defense of Corpuz and Woodard, council members said they reserve the right to re-evaluate the decision. It doesn't automatically mean that the city will pay any legal judgments that might be awarded because of its former employees' actions.

If approved, the resolutions authorize the city to pay $400,000 to the firm of Wolfe Leinbach for Woodard's defense and $375,000 to the firm of Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson & Daheim for Corpuz's defense.

Jason Hagey: 253-597-8542