Special Reports

Crystal kept divorce case quiet matter

In the months before David Brame killed her, Crystal Brame did all she could do to avoid embarrassing her husband through their divorce, said her attorney, Joe Lombino.

She filed for divorce Feb. 24 in King County rather than in Pierce to minimize publicity that could hurt his career as Tacoma's police chief.

"We wanted to keep everything as low-key as possible," Lombino said. "One of the reasons for that was to try to increase the chances he wouldn't be embarrassed, to try to keep it private from his employees ... to keep from making it a volatile situation."

According to court documents, Crystal Brame initially didn't seek a restraining order, which would have prohibited David Brame from making any hostile contact.

She did that despite Lombino's concerns, because she knew the information would be entered in a statewide database and would embarrass David Brame at work.

"I was very afraid of his reaction in the event I did obtain a personal restraining order," Crystal Brame wrote in a March 25 declaration as part of the divorce. "In fact, I went to great lengths to try to not upset my husband initially because I was so afraid of his reaction."

Lombino told the person who would serve the divorce papers not to go to David Brame's office.

And Crystal Brame moved out of the couple's Gig Harbor house and into her parents' home in a gated community before filing for divorce, Lombino said.

On April 26, after a chance meeting in a Gig Harbor shopping center parking lot, David Brame fatally shot Crystal Brame and then killed himself.

Still, advocates against domestic violence say Crystal Brame probably was in the best position to have known what to do.

"The person who knows what's going to be the safest for the victim is the victim," said Karin White Tautfest, director of advocacy services for the YWCA. "I'm very tired of people second-guessing what she did, because that's not the point. She was the victim, and she did what was best for her."

Crystal Brame could have taken a more forceful, aggressive route to the divorce.

Lombino could have requested an order forcing David Brame to leave the family home, rather than having Crystal Brame take her children and leave.

The lawyer could have filed the divorce papers in Pierce County, two floors below David Brame's office in the County-City Building.

He could have gotten the restraining order or a protection order, which would have kept David Brame completely away from his wife.

Attorneys vary in whether they choose "soft" or "hard" approaches to their cases, said Jim Hardisty, a University of Washington law professor who teaches, family law and criminal law.

Usually, Hardisty said, "it is the role of the attorney to harass the party on the other side." Such pressure increases the likelihood the other side will settle, he said.

Local divorce lawyers say they assess each case to determine the approach to take.

When there's no sense of emergency, keeping a divorce low-profile often makes sense, said attorney Herb Gelman.

"If you have somebody who's in politics or in a position in public light, you do that," he said. "If your ultimate purpose is to resolve these issues and let people get on with their lives, any good lawyer is going to say, 'Let's go that way.'"

The best approach depends on the client, said John Miller, who's done divorce cases for 30 years.

"It's real important to look at the big picture," he said. "You use a lot of discretion. You look at how fearful the person is."

Not all lawyers do that, he acknowledged.

"Some people ram it into court, without study," Miller said. "And people get hurt. Especially when there are children involved, you have to be careful."

Experts say most victims killed in domestic violence die after they leave - when their abuser has lost control. So, though lay people sometimes lament that victims should just leave, that's when it's most dangerous.

Crystal Brame was "the opposite of the vindictive ex-wife, or somebody with a bad temper," said Ann Eft, director of the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence.

"She was very nice about it, quite honestly," Eft said. "She tried to protect him."

Crystal Brame went out of her way to shield her husband, at her own jeopardy, said Ardith DeRaad, founder of the Alliance Against Domestic Violence.

"Not that a protection order is ever going to stop a bullet," DeRaad said, "but it would have given him notice that she was quite serious."

Lombino said getting Crystal Brame and her children into her parents' house - in a gated community - was important.

"The main focus was just to separate them," he said.

Crystal Brame, in her divorce papers, said David Brame had choked her and threatened to snap her neck. She said he had threatened to kill her by pointing his service revolver at her, saying, "Accidents happen."

After David Brame requested that the divorce case be moved to Pierce County and he continued to call his wife, Crystal Brame did seek a restraining order, Lombino said. A judge was going to consider it at a later hearing.

Such a document wouldn't have kept Brame away, as a protection order should have, but it would have prohibited any unwelcome contact.

Lombino said he never told anyone from the city that Crystal Brame had said the police chief was abusing her.

The attorney had no responsibility to tell someone else about his client's allegations, said Lisa Kelly, a University of Washington law professor who specializes in family law and children's rights.

In fact, she said, he had an obligation not to tell.

"His responsibility is primarily to his client," Kelly said. "And particularly for women in domestic violence cases, it's important for them to be able to trust their lawyers. Otherwise, they wouldn't tell even their lawyers what they need to know."

Abuse victims usually are afraid, and ashamed, she said.

"If on top of it, if you believed he was going to go on the 6 o'clock news, you probably wouldn't get a whole lot of disclosure," Kelly said. "The law is set up for individuals, in the hope that by bettering individuals, the whole system would be improved."

Lombino said the best decision in the case was to move Crystal Brame out of her home and then protect her in practical ways.

"Most attorneys don't try to make things worse," Lombino said. "They try to take a bad situation, and make things better."

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660