Special Reports

City to hire outside lawyers for Brame case

Tacoma city attorneys no longer will represent the city's Human Resources Department on legal matters relating to the David Brame investigation.

"It's in the best interests of the city," spokeswoman Carol Mathewson said. "We just want the public to know that we're removing any potential for the perception that we're not being impartial."

The two departments were involved in one of the most controversial decisions stemming from the Brame scandal.

Top officials disagreed over whether to disarm Brame, the police chief, the day before he fatally wounded his wife, Crystal, and then killed himself April 26.

That discussion, and whether City Manager Ray Corpuz was informed of it, is among several aspects of the case that have shaken Tacoma's government.

In light of the complex legal situation, acting City Manager Jim Walton has told senior department officials they can seek outside legal advice at city expense.

He said he had nothing to add to a city statement on the hiring authorization.

So far, Human Resources is the only department to hire its own attorneys. Walton gave the department approval to spend $10,000 to hire Winterbauer and Diamond, a Seattle law firm that specializes in employment and labor law.

The department will need the City Council's approval to spend more than $50,000.

On issues apart from the Brame case, city attorneys will continue to advise the Human Resources Department as usual.

Knudsen said the public needs to know the city is trying its best to handle a difficult situation.

"We're doing this because, in the public perception, there might be the potential for a conflict of interest, and we don't want that to be a concern," he said.

Jenkinson referred questions to the city spokeswoman.

Legal experts say the city attorney's office likely is seeking to extricate itself from conflicts - or potential conflicts of interest - in representing itself and other departments in the Brame case.

"Attorneys can't represent two conflicting positions at the same time," said David Boerner, a Seattle University law professor.

State and federal authorities are investigating city officials for what they knew about Brame and how they handled his career before the shootings.

City Attorney Jenkinson wanted the Human Resources Department to find its own attorneys and its manager, Knudsen agreed, Mathewson said.

Independent legal advice is needed to maintain a fair and impartial investigations by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI, Mathewson said.

The discussion that set up one potential conflict of interest for the city happened April 25.

Knudsen and his second in command, Mary Brown, wanted to take the chief's gun and badge after learning from a newspaper article that he might have threatened his wife, sources have told The News Tribune.

Jenkinson and chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli disagreed, saying the Brames' tumultuous divorce was a civil matter, sources say.

Officials from neither department will comment on the issue.

The City Attorney's Office also faces potential conflicts in how it handled a 1999 lawsuit in which allegations surfaced that Brame raped a woman in 1988.

The City Attorney's Office created a conflict of interest for itself when Assistant City Attorney Shelley Kerslake represented both Brame and the city in that case, said John Strait, a Seattle University law professor.

Both Brame's estate and the city have a right to privacy under attorney-client privilege rules, and resolving those issues will prove difficult, Strait said.

Mathewson would not disclose what legal advice the Human Resources Department might seek from its outside attorneys.

While the city regularly hires legal experts to help with complex issues, legal issues in the Brame case are far from ordinary.

"This is getting more and more complicated," said John Junker, a University of Washington law professor.

Martha Modeen: 253-597-8646

martha.modeen@mail.tribnet.com

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