Special Reports

Relationships a factor in picking judge in Brame suit

It could be hard to find a judge in Pierce County who didn't know anyone associated with the wrongful death suit against the City of Tacoma for the David Brame shootings.

The case, brought by the family of the police chief's wife, Crystal, includes references to public officials and law enforcement officers well-known in the legal community.

And attorneys for the family want to add former City Manager Ray Corpuz, former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard and Mayor Bill Baarsma to the suit.

Superior Court Judge John McCarthy, who was randomly assigned to preside in the case, said Friday he didn't believe he had any friendships or contacts that would make it hard to be fair in hearing the suit.

But before he made any rulings, he told the family's attorney, David Beninger, and the city's attorney, Tim Gosselin, who he knew and how well.

McCarthy said he'd met David Brame once, and that he knew his brother, Dan Brame, a Pierce County sheriff's deputy.

He said he'd had social contact with Corpuz, and that, as a Port of Tacoma commissioner, he'd also worked with the ex-city manager on a land settlement involving the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

McCarthy knows Baarsma, has been to former Tacoma City Councilwoman Sharon McGavick's home and has met other council members. His judicial assistant, Karen Ladenburg, is City Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg's sister-in-law.

Attorneys on each side have one opportunity to reject a judge in a case without giving a reason. If that happens, court administrators assign the case randomly to another judge.

Beninger, who is working with Seattle attorney Paul Luvera on the case, said he has no plans to ask for a different judge, but Gosselin said he'd have to discuss it with his clients.

"I don't think I heard any one thing that was of particular concern," he said. "It's a question of whether all of them together cause concern. It's not a question of whether the judge could be fair, but whether the appearance of unfairness would be there."

Gosselin said there's no "bright line" about what types of relationships are and aren't acceptable in such cases.

Tacoma's federal judges recused themselves from the case after the city had the suit moved from Superior Court to federal court. Luvera won a motion to have the case moved back to Superior Court, where he'd filed it.

The attorneys will return to court Jan. 30 if the city decides to ask for a new judge.

The suit, filed in October, claims city officials are responsible for Crystal Brame's death because they wrongly gave her husband power and then didn't watch him. David Brame fatally shot his wife and himself April 26.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660