Special Reports

Crystal's family, city battle over court venue

The City of Tacoma and Crystal Brame's family are fighting over where the family's wrongful death lawsuit should be tried.

Defense attorneys this week had the lawsuit against the city moved to U.S. District Court in Tacoma. They said the move, in part, would make the case quicker and less expensive.

"We have a very fine federal court in Tacoma that is as capable at rendering justice as any of the other courts are," said Tim Gosselin, who is leading a team of attorneys defending the city. "I don't think by moving the case to federal court anyone is being deprived of justice."

Attorneys for Brame's parents, sister and children are asking the federal court to return the lawsuit to Pierce County Superior Court, where they filed it Oct. 8.

Moving the case is a delay tactic and an effort to keep justice out of the hands of the people who deserve it, said David Beninger, who with Paul Luvera is representing the family.

"While they speak warm words of getting at the truth and full disclosure, their cold actions are consistently the opposite," Beninger said.

The lawsuit contends city officials caused Brame's death by negligently hiring her husband, David, promoting him to police chief and giving him power and a gun, while ignoring signs of his violent tendencies.

It was brought by Crystal Brame's parents, Lane and Patty Judson; her sister, Julie Ahrens; and her children, 8-year-old Haley and 5-year-old David Jr.

David Brame fatally shot his wife and then himself April 26 while they were in the middle of a divorce filled with mutual allegations of abuse.

Gosselin said he had the lawsuit moved for three reasons:

•Federal courts have a more organized system of "discovery," which means the two sides will share information quicker and less expensively.

•Federal judges are better able to interpret and apply the federal statutes asserted in the family's allegations against the city.

The initial claims alleged organized crime and that the city denied Crystal Brame's constitutional right to life and liberty. The family's lawyers now say they won't assert those claims in the lawsuit.

•Because Tacoma City Council members have contact with Pierce County Superior Court judges, it would be easier to find in federal court a judge who wouldn't need to step aside because of a personal conflict.

However, the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton, who might recuse himself because his wife, Sally Leighton, works for Burgess Fitzer, the legal firm representing the city.

There are three other judges and two magistrate judges at the federal courthouse in Tacoma.

Beninger said he wants to make sure the family gets a jury trial, whether in federal or Superior Court. He'd rather that be a Pierce County panel, because a federal court would draw jurors from throughout Western Washington.

"This action seems to be designed by the city to take the power ... out of the hands of people most affected by this case, and instead to put it into the hands of a federal judge," he said.

Gosselin said he still had time to ask for a jury trial, but he and his clients haven't made the decision yet.

The defense team is suggesting it wants a jury that has an interest in the outcome, Gosselin said.

"And that's not usually how we pick juries," he said. "We want juries that don't have an interest in the outcome."

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660