The Seattle Police Officers' Guild has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint in response to City Attorney Pete Holmes' ending the city's nearly 40-year contract with the private law firm of Stafford Frey Cooper.

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The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint in response to City Attorney Pete Holmes’ ending the city’s contract with the private law firm of Stafford Frey Cooper after nearly 40 years.

The complaint filed with the state Public Employment Relations Commission alleges “employer interference with employee rights” and claims the city is refusing to bargain with the guild. The guild is seeking to have the state agency intervene and require the city to bargain, to pay its legal fees and to “restore the status quo,” according to the filing.

The commission has opened a case in response to the police guild’s complaint, which was filed by attorney Hillary McClure, of the Seattle firm Vick, Julius, McClure.

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Holmes announced in May that he was not renewing the city’s contract with Stafford Frey Cooper and will instead put complex litigation, including cases involving police, out for bid. Holmes said the move would save an estimated $800,000 annually.

Police officers in legal trouble are now represented by either the City Attorney’s Office or outside counsel hired through competitive bidding, according to Holmes’ office. This includes complex cases alleging police misconduct, wrongful arrest, wrongful death, excessive use of force and violations of federal civil rights.

Since ending the contract with Stafford Frey Cooper, nearly a dozen law firms have put in bids with the city; no firm has been selected yet, said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office.

Because of an anticipated increase in cases, the City Attorney’s Office has hired two lawyers, a paralegal and a legal assistant, according to the office.

Stafford Frey Cooper has handled about 30 cases each year for the city, at an hourly billing of about $275. The City Attorney’s Office rate is $100 per hour, according to the city. The firm says that in its years of handling cases it won a high ratio of trials, protecting the city from large jury awards, verdicts or settlements.

Holmes has said that since 1999 the city has paid Stafford Frey Cooper about $18 million for representing Seattle police in tort litigation.

Rich O’Neill, president of the guild, has said the unfair-labor-practice complaint is necessary because the guild’s contract requires the city to follow “past practice” in matters of police litigation.

O’Neill said the contract indicates the city is required to retain Stafford Frey Cooper to represent police, but Holmes disagrees. In a letter sent to the police guild last year, Holmes said “the selection of counsel for city employees is a decision vested within the discretion of the City Attorney, and is not subject to collective bargaining.”

Stafford Frey Cooper has put in a bid with the city to be hired under the competitive-bidding process, Mills said.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or

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