A battle between two prominent Seattle lawyers now includes a claim that John Henry Browne has had an “inappropriately intimate relationship” with his client, an accused killer. Browne denies it and dismisses opposing attorney Karen Koehler’s accusations as “rumors and gossip.”
An already nasty battle between celebrity defense attorney John Henry Browne and another prominent Seattle lawyer has turned even nastier, with each filing a flurry of new personal allegations against the other in King County Superior Court.
Fresh off scoring a legal victory against Browne, attorney Karen Koehler is now contending that Browne, who is opposing her in a high-profile wrongful-death case, is engaged in an “inappropriately intimate relationship” with his client, accused killer Tracy (Nessl) McNamara.
Koehler claims Browne’s relationship with McNamara has clouded his professional judgment, fueling “increasingly erratic personal attacks” on Koehler and prompting an unsuccessful defamation lawsuit brought against Koehler and her firm on behalf of McNamara. A judge tossed out that lawsuit last month, ruling it had no merit.
Now, Koehler and her attorney, Bruce Johnson, want the judge to impose sanctions against Browne for what they claim was Browne’s malicious attempt to bully Koehler through a frivolous suit.
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“I believe that Mr. Browne filed this lawsuit for the improper purposes of retaliation, harassment and intimidation,” Koehler wrote in a sworn declaration. “I believe the evidence demonstrates that Mr. Browne’s professional independent judgment has been significantly impacted by the nature of his relationship with Ms. Nessl.”
Browne — who has defended such clients as serial killer Ted Bundy and “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore during a career spanning more than four decades — denies the accusations.
In his response to Koehler’s claims, Browne points out that Johnson even admits in his own motion seeking sanctions that “the full extent of Mr. Browne’s relationship with Ms. Nessl” isn’t known. While Browne acknowledged he has stayed over at McNamara’s Soap Lake farmhouse on “a few occasions,” he says he slept in his own room.
“We do not have a sexual relationship; any suggestion otherwise is based on pure speculation,” Browne added.
Browne also filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling on the defamation suit and a counter-motion seeking sanctions against Koehler and Johnson.
“Clearly, the outrageous, offensive and unsupported allegations in Mr. Johnson’s motion are calculated to embarrass (Tracy McNamara), and Mr. Browne, in the eyes of the public, the media and even the Bar Association,” Browne wrote.
A hearing on the court filings is scheduled for Tuesday.
The volley of filings are the latest twist in an ongoing feud between the two lawyers that has spilled into the public eye in recent months.
Browne and Koehler are opposing each other in a tangled wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the adult children of Timothy McNamara, a 66-year-old Grant County grandfather who was fatally shot on Christmas Day two years ago while living in Belize. Belizean authorities initially ruled McNamara’s death a suicide, but later issued a murder warrant for McNamara’s wife, who is also his niece, Tracy (Nessl) McNamara.
Tracy McNamara, 45, who denies killing her late husband and uncle, had returned to live in Soap Lake on his former farm before Belize issued the warrant.
The opposing lawyers have butted heads throughout the case. In May, Koehler wrote publicly about the spat on her blog, revealing that Browne had repeatedly bullied and disparaged her, including calling her a “whack job” and insulting her looks.
Browne later acknowledged partaking in such personal attacks, but countered that Koehler also participated and had exaggerated the dispute to seek publicity for herself.
News about the lawyers’ spat led the Washington Bar Association to cancel its plans to reprint part of Browne’s recently published memoir— an action that peeved Browne, who in turn blamed Koehler.
In July, Browne sued Koehler and her firm on behalf of Tracy McNamara, claiming they defamed his client by posting false information about her legal circumstances on the firm’s website. Superior Court Judge James E. Rogers dismissed the lawsuit last month, ruling the firm’s writings were protected under the “Fair Report Privilege” that allows public recountings of defamatory statements made as part of official proceedings.
In support of her latest allegations, Koehler — a former president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, who represents 20 victims of last year’s deadly Ride the Ducks tourist-vehicle crash — filed more than 120 pages of declarations and exhibits that, among other things, offer observations from herself, her clients and others to contend Browne’s relationship with Tracy McNamara has become “inappropriately intimate.”
The records allege Browne’s white Cadillac Escalade has been spotted several times parked overnight at Tracy McNamara’s home, and that Browne was seen buying a bottle of wine at a Safeway in Ephrata late one afternoon, shortly before his SUV was seen parked at the home overnight.
Johnson contends Browne’s inappropriate relationship and erratic behavior during the case present glaring conflicts of interest and violate various “fundamental legal ethics,” possibly including a rule in Washington that generally prohibits lawyers from having sexual relationships with current clients.
(Johnson and his firm, Davis Wright Tremaine, have represented The Seattle Times in various legal matters.)
Browne countered in his declaration that he’s not having sex with McNamara, doesn’t drink and bought the wine to take to a re-election party for a Moses Lake judge. He contends Koehler is simply using the case to garner publicity in The Seattle Times and other media, and he likened the accusations against him and his client to McCarthyism, the communist witch-hunts of the 1950s.
“Mr. Johnson, Ms. Koehler, have you no sense of decency?” Browne concluded his response. “You are recklessly hurting Ms. McNamara with rumors and gossip turned into fact. You are damaging Mr. Browne’s ethics and reputation and abusing the independence of the press, the Bar Association and the thoughtful demeanor of this Court.”