Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn moved Tuesday to bar City Attorney Pete Holmes from participating in talks on police reforms, accusing Holmes of “undercutting” Police Chief John Diaz in negotiations with an independent monitor over the scope of the changes.
In a strongly worded email, McGinn’s legal counsel, Carl Marquardt, accused Holmes of an ethical breach of the attorney-client privilege as the city works to comply with a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to curb excessive force and biased policing.
Marquardt said it was time to institute an “ethical screen” between Holmes and the attorneys in his office who are representing the city in the matter.
Holmes’ office replied in a terse statement Tuesday night, saying his office “categorically denies any breach of the City Attorney’s ethical obligations to the City.”
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It added, “As the independently elected City Attorney with supervisory control over litigation” Holmes can “communicate with the monitor and Department of Justice with the goal of protecting the City’s interests.”
McGinn’s action was followed by a meeting late Tuesday afternoon of the court-appointed monitor, Merrick Bobb, and Marquardt, Holmes and Diaz, in what appeared to be an effort to resolve the split.
It was unclear Tuesday night if the meeting, which also included federal attorneys, led to a resolution of a potential clash of executive powers in the city.
McGinn’s spokesman, Aaron Pickus, declined to comment Tuesday night.
The bitter dispute stems from an effort between Bobb, who heads a nonprofit police-assessment center in Los Angeles, and the city to agree on a monitoring plan for the Police Department, required under the settlement agreement reached in July.
Bobb and the city have been discussing the parameters of the plan, which is to include timetables for training, policies and compliance audits.
Both worked under a deadline this week tied to the talks, but late Monday attorneys for the city and the Justice Department asked the federal judge overseeing the settlement agreement for a 10-day extension. The judge, James Robart, who granted the request, is to hold a status conference in his court on the progress of the settlement agreement on March 12.
Diaz sent a letter to Bobb on Monday in which he noted that it would difficult to implement the settlement agreement without an accord on a monitoring plan, even though the agreement allowed for an alternative in which the department could independently produce its own plan.
He said he hoped to find common ground but cited a “few concerns” about Bobb’s proposed plan, which has not been made public.
Bobb’s plan lacks “clarity” and “guidance” while some parts go “beyond the scope” of the settlement agreement, Diaz wrote.
In addition, Diaz provided his own framework for a plan.
On Tuesday, Holmes sent a letter to Bobb and a federal attorney saying he believes the monitor’s draft plan “provides the starting point for collaboration” and that the Police Department’s desire for more specific guidance could be accomplished by adding an appendix to the monitoring plan.
In wording that drew the ire of the mayor’s office, Holmes added, “if the Monitor would like to engage in discussions as suggested by SPD in Chief Diaz’s letter, our office will assist in that process. If however, the Monitor is inclined to reject SPD’s approach, our office wanted to propose an alternative path for negotiation.”
Marquardt, the mayor’s legal counsel, said in his email that Holmes had submitted an alternate statement for a monitoring plan that was “materially different” from the proposal submitted by Diaz.
“Executive branch departments are entitled to have legal representatives who respect confidentiality and represent their interests,” Marquardt wrote.
As he entered Tuesday’s meeting with Bobb, Holmes told a reporter, “I am concerned about the city getting on board and doing the job of reform.”
Diaz, as he arrived at the meeting, said he was not objecting to Bobb’s plan but negotiating what should be in it.
“He sent in his approach,” Diaz said. “I sent in my approach.”
Tuesday’s meeting came at a time when Bobb has come under fire over a news leak that the city denied to pay for some of his initial expenses.
Although Bobb has rented an apartment in Seattle so he and his team can avoid more costly hotel bills, the city refused to pay for a small amount of alcohol consumed at meals and other billings, in part because the city won’t cover alcohol expenditures.
The billing issue was resolved, but two city officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday there appeared to be an orchestrated campaign under way to have Bobb removed. Bobb was opposed by McGinn and Diaz, but supported by the City Council.
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org