Tacoma City Council members unanimously approved two legal contracts totaling $775,000 Tuesday night for the defense of fired City Manager Ray Corpuz and retired assistant police chief Catherine Woodard in the Crystal Brame wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
"On a list of 100 things that any of us up here would like to spend $775,000 on, I don't think either of these (contracts) is on that list," Councilman Mike Lonergan said.
But legal experts have advised the council that separating Corpuz and Woodard from the city's defense team is the best strategy in the multimillion-dollar lawsuit, he added.
The city can't defend the two with in-house attorneys because that could pose a conflict of interest, acting city attorney Elizabeth Pauli said.
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"It's not what we want to do. It's what circumstances dictate that we must do," Lonergan said, acknowledging that council members have received numerous calls and e-mails from members of the public who question the expenditure.
The council first approved a $400,000 contract with the firm Wolfe Leinbach to provide independent legal counsel for Woodard. In a separate action, council members unanimously OK'd a $375,000 contract with the Tacoma law firm Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson & Daheim for the defense of Corpuz.
The city already has a $1.9 million contract with the Tacoma law firm Burgess Fitzer for its legal defense.
Corpuz and Woodard are individually named, along with Mayor Bill Baarsma, the city and Pierce County, in a King County Superior Court lawsuit brought by Crystal Brame's parents, Lane and Patty Judson, and other members of her family.
The Judsons filed a $75 million wrongful death claim against the city June 9, then later converted it to a lawsuit for an unspecified amount of damages.
Tacoma Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, then killed himself on April 26, 2003.
The family claims city officials were negligent for promoting an unstable Brame to police chief, then failing to adequately supervise him, even after they learned Crystal Brame claimed in divorce papers that he had threatened to kill her.