Special Reports

Judge recuses himself from hearing Brame family suit

Superior Court Judge John McCarthy recused himself this week from hearing the Crystal Brame wrongful death lawsuit.

He did so after attorneys for the City of Tacoma asked him to because he knew too many people involved in the suit.

Afterward, the case bounced from courtroom to courtroom as four other Pierce County judges randomly assigned said they couldn't hear the case.

It eventually landed with Judge Sergio Armijo.

The suit, filed against the city by Brame's family, is scheduled for trial in October. It alleges city officials caused her death by giving her husband, Police Chief David Brame, power and not keeping him in check.

David Brame fatally shot himself and his wife April 26.

The lawsuit includes references to public officials and law enforcement officers well-known in the legal community.

McCarthy on Jan. 23 told attorneys for both sides that although he knew several people involved in the suit, he didn't believe his associations would interfere with his hearing the case.

Tim Gosselin, the lead attorney defending the city, sent a letter to McCarthy on Jan. 28, thanking him for his candor but asking him not to hear the case.

"While the appearance of fairness is important in any case, it is more so here where public scrutiny is so intense and allegations of corruption and favoritism are so central to plaintiffs' complaint," Gosselin wrote.

He said the number and extent of contacts McCarthy disclosed would make it impossible to achieve the perception of being truly fair, impartial and unbiased.

Steve Saynisch, deputy court administrator for the county, said that after McCarthy passed the case along Thursday, it was randomly assigned to other judges using a computer program.

Judges Brian Tollefson, Katherine Stolz, James Orlando and Vicki Hogan recused themselves. It was then assigned to Armijo.

Gosselin said Friday he had heard no concerns about Armijo, but he said he hadn't yet talked to his clients about any contacts they'd had with the judge.

"I'll be working on that next week," he said.

A spokesman for Crystal Brame's family's attorney, Paul Luvera, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

City attorneys have decided not to oppose Luvera's motion to add former City Manager Ray Corpuz, former assistant police chief Catherine Woodard and Mayor Bill Baarsma to the suit.

The judge who eventually hears the case will have to decide whether to allow Luvera to amend the lawsuit.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660