Special Reports

Brame case cost to city already in the 6 figures

If you take a pending multimillion-dollar lawsuit out of the equation, the David Brame scandal will cost the City of Tacoma hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees, staff time and investigative costs.

Since the Tacoma police chief fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and killed himself with his department-issued handgun April 26, the city has retained seven law firms to work on various aspects of the case. Many of the attorneys charge between $185 and $300 an hour.

Though the city sometimes hires outside law firms to work on certain cases, seven outside legal contracts is unusual, chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli said.

Documents available to date show the city has paid or been billed about $130,200 under contracts with the law firms, said Washington State Patrol and City Council liaison Douglas Aukland.

Many of their statements are lagging a month behind, so more bills are on their way, city officials said. In addition, the $130,200 does not include costs for travel, lodging and meals for an investigation by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs or the $6,500 flat-fee contract with McMahon-Elliott Consulting for services to the city manager's office.

And no one can predict how high attorneys' fees might go, particularly in defending the city against a $75 million wrongful death claim filed against the city by Crystal Brame's family.

Legal fees detailed

Some of the legal costs are controversial.

The Human Resources Department, for example, hired a separate law firm for legal advice following a spat with the City Attorney's Office over exactly what transpired the day before the Brame shootings.

Human Resources officials insisted they urged City Attorney Robin Jenkinson and her staff to strip Brame of his badge and gun, fearing for the safety of Crystal Brame after her allegations of domestic abuse were made public.

The cost of the contract for "employment and labor counsel" with Winterbauer & Diamond of Seattle totals $18,450 to date.

Among the firm's charges for service:

•Review and revise draft responses to public disclosure requests from The News Tribune, Seattle Times, etc.; telephone conference with city Human Resources officials. 2 hours, $490.

•"Attend press conference called by City Attorney" and 30 minutes of other work. 4 hours, $680.

•Finalize Human Resources press release; telephone conferences with Human Resources officials Phil Knudsen and Mary Brown about news release and press interview. 1 hour, 40 minutes, $343.

Danielson Harrigan Leyh & Tollefson of Seattle, hired by the City Council for advice on attorney-client privilege, legal ethics and other matters, submitted a bill for $23,160. But Mayor Bill Baarsma said he negotiated it down to $15,000.

Before the reduction, some of that firm's charges included:

•A telephone conference with the mayor and council; telephone conference with Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs investigator Russ Hauge and e-mails with his assistant, Ione George; "read documents and press clippings re recent events"; and analyze privilege issues. 6 1/2 hours, $1,950.

•Create newspaper articles notebook for review; begin drafting cast of characters: search Courtlink for dockets relating to Brame; e-mail T. Leyh re status. 6.10 hours, $610.

Leyh was not available for comment on the charges, but Tim Gosselin, one of the attorneys representing the city in the wrongful death suit, says such research is invaluable to law firms in assembling their cases.

Paid leave

Still other Brame-related costs incurred by the city include pay and benefits to three employees on administrative leave.

•Former City Manager Ray Corpuz: About $31,000 in salary, plus $4,036 in vacation pay, roughly $1,724 in medical and dental insurance premiums and $2,909 in retirement plan contributions during his administrative leave from May 6-July 14. That's a total of about $39,700.

Corpuz placed himself on paid leave May 6 after questions arose about his handling of promotion and personnel matters concerning Brame. The City Council fired him effective July 14.

•Assistant Police Chief Catherine Woodard: Roughly $36,300 in salary or personal injury pay from May 1 through today, plus $2,016 in vacation pay and roughly $13,000 in medical, dental and vision benefits. That totals more than $51,300.

Woodard was placed on administrative leave May 1 pending an investigation into allegations she unlawfully aided Brame in his divorce proceedings.

•Police officer Patrick Frantz: $16,600 in salary and $1,770 in medical, dental and vision benefits during his administrative leave from the beginning of May through today. Frantz remains on leave.

Woodard put Frantz, the police union Local 6 president, on leave after he allegedly sent a threatening e-mail message to Tacoma Internet publisher John Hathaway.

Woodard and Frantz remain under criminal investigation.

Cost of openness

One of the city's most monumental tasks arising from the Brame shootings is fulfilling the deluge of public records requests from newspapers and television stations around Puget Sound and across the nation, communications director Carol Mathewson said.

Employees' hours on such tasks are difficult to calculate, "but there's a substantial amount of time spent when we could be taking care of other city business," Mathewson said.

Chief assistant city attorney Pauli, at a salary of $106,059 a year, and City Attorney's Office employee Jodi Davila, who makes $43,826, have been spending nearly all their working hours fulfilling records requests, Pauli said.

Police department attorneys Tom Orr and Kim Gerhardt, who each makes $85,821 a year, also spend most of their time dealing with Brame-related matters, Pauli and Mathewson said.

For the first several weeks after the shootings, Mathewson, who is paid $89,794 a year, and community relations specialist Chris Gleason, who earns $60,965, worked 15 hours a day tending to media and employee questions, requests for interviews and other Brame-related tasks, Mathewson said.

Requests for help marketing neighborhood and civic events often went by the wayside, she added.

City Manager Jim Walton said he's heard city employees have logged more than 400 hours filling requests for information, particularly from the State Patrol.

Though it takes hours to assemble and copy documents, then black out information that's not disclosable, the city can charge only a copying fee of 15 cents per page.

"Out loud, we've questioned the time and the cost," Mathewson said. "Are we doing the taxpayers' work? Is this the way we should be spending our time while we're on the job?"

But Mathewson acknowledged the public's right to know what its government is doing and the city's need to comply with open records laws.

Final costs unknown

City officials haven't figured out how they'll pay for the Brame case. The costs "are still pretty nebulous," budget director Diane Supler said. "But at some magic point in time - and I don't know when that will be - we'll be needing to do something as far as a budget amendment."

Mayor Baarsma simply says he's certain the case will cost the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds and hundreds of hours in staff time."

Last week, the City Council turned down the $75 million wrongful death claim but authorized its attorneys to negotiate a settlement.

Across the country, cities and states often pay dearly for mistakes and criminal acts by their employees. Wenatchee still faces millions in lawsuits and is appealing a $718,964 state fine in a 9-year-old child sex abuse case. The State of Washington paid out more than $50 million in lawsuits involving the poor supervision of parolees in a six-month span of 2000 and 2001.

Tacoma will spend a lot of money revamping many of its personnel policies and procedures and creating a model program for dealing with domestic violence issues, Baarsma said.

One of the most troubling aspects of the Brame case is how a man who flunked the police department's psychological entrance exam was hired as a rookie cop in 1981, then rose through the ranks to chief - even with a rape allegation along the way.

"Out of this terrible and devastating tragedy, something good will emerge," Baarsma said. "You can't put a number on that."

Nevertheless, the hard costs to the city will be dear, a fact that's frustrating to taxpayers, Councilman Bill Evans said.

"You love your return on any taxpayer investment that you can touch and see and appreciate," he said. "Obviously this is the result of a tragedy that happened in our city and we have to face up to it. But it doesn't make it any less frustrating. ... You just feel helpless."

Kris Sherman 253-597-8659


SIDEBAR: How costly is the Brame case?

Here are a few examples of contracts the city has with law firms, investigative agencies and others to help sort out issues in the David Brame case.

Firm/individual Purpose Maximum amount * Service dates Billed/paid

Winterbauer & Diamond, Seattle Legal advice, Human Resources N/A May-June $18,451

Stokes Lawrence, Seattle Legal advice, Human Resources "whistleblower complaint" $5,000 June $3,531

Summit Law Group, Seattle Legal advice, city attorney, "personnel issues" $5,000 May $652

Stafford Frey Cooper, Seattle Legal consultation, for city attorney, Risk Management $10,000 N/A N/A

Danielson Harrigan Leyh & Tollefson, Seattle Legal advice, City Council, attorney-client privilege N/A May Billed $23,160/paid $15,000

Stoel Rives, Portland Ethics advice, city attorney $5,000 May $1,855

Burgess Fitzer, Tacoma Legal defense, $75 million claim $245,000 June $48,255

Washington State Patrol Investigation overtime, benefits, travel, support costs N/A June $39,700

Washington Association Sheriffs/Police Chiefs Costs, travel, lodging, meals N/A N/A N/A

Douglas Aukland City Council liaison $32 an hour, mileage, meals, expenses June $2,768

McMahon-Elliott Consulting Consultants, city manager, phase 1 of services $6,500 flat fee June-August $6,500

Total to date $144,872/$136,712

N/A: Not available

* Maximum amount without additional city approval

Sources: City Attorney's Office, City Council offices, City Manager's Office, public records requests

Kris Sherman, The News Tribune