Ignoring Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, a private attorney hired by the city to defend three officers who were sued after they repeatedly tased a pregnant woman during a 2004 traffic stop has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

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Ignoring Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, a private attorney hired by the city to defend three officers who were sued after they repeatedly tased a pregnant woman during a 2004 traffic stop has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

In an extraordinary response, the city has informed the attorney, Ted Buck, that he was not authorized to ask the high court to take the case on appeal, and that the city won’t pay the costs of pursuing it.

Buck, a Seattle attorney with a long history of defending police officers on behalf of the city, also has been told that his action violated his duty to the city, and that, based on advice from outside legal ethics experts, a bar complaint could be brought against him.

“You undermined the City’s position with the officers and then chose to push forward with the petition ostensibly on their behalf,” City Attorney Pete Holmes wrote in a pointed letter to Buck on Wednesday.

“In addition, we believe you have compromised your ethical obligations,” Holmes wrote.

Buck, in a statement, defended his decision Thursday, saying his law firm, Stafford Frey Cooper, was “ethically and sensibly” obliged to seek the review.

Among other things, Buck said, he took into consideration the city’s contractual obligations with the police guild, although the union played no role in the decision to seek Supreme Court review. He concluded that he had no choice but to “protect the officers’ interests even if the city disagreed.”

“I consulted an outside legal ethics expert who advised me that I had to abide by my duty to the officers I was hired to represent,” Buck wrote, adding the expert found no conflict of interest.

Buck’s filing with the Supreme Court stems from an October ruling of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that the three officers cannot be sued in federal court, despite evidence they used excessive force, because the law governing Taser use was unclear at the time.

But in a 6-5 ruling, the court said Malaika Brooks could still sue the officers on a state claim of assault and battery claim. Brooks, whose baby was born healthy, is now pursing a state claim in federal court, but no longer can seek attorney fees.

Although granting immunity to Sgt. Steven Daman and officers Juan Ornelas and Donald Jones, the majority — based on Brooks’ version of events — concluded the Taser use was improper and could be a violation of her civil rights

The City Attorney’s Office determined a Supreme Court appeal was unwise. In a Dec. 19 meeting between the office and Buck’s law partner, Diaz agreed, joined by Mayor Mike McGinn’s legal counsel.

As outlined in the letter to Buck, the city determined the facts — tasing a pregnant woman three times in about 42 seconds after she refused to sign a speeding ticket and get out of her car — “unduly risk creating unhelpful Supreme Court precedent on taser use.”

In addition, Seattle police changed their policy after the incident to no longer require drivers to sign tickets, and state law was subsequently changed along the same line.

City attorneys determined the best course was to await Supreme Court guidance on other Taser cases pending in the federal courts, according to the letter to Buck.

But Buck informed the city last Friday that he planned to file the Supreme Court writ.

In a court filing Thursday, Buck wrote, “If the Supreme Court grants review and reverses the constitutional holding, finding the officers acted reasonably, the officers would be entitled to state immunity extinguishing all remaining claims.”

Buck suggested to U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, who is hearing the state claim, that the best course might be to stay the case until the Supreme Court acts.

The city, in its letter to Buck, noted that employees who are provided legal protection are not allowed to override the city’s litigation decisions.

The letter accused Buck of acting in a “disingenuous” fashion, by saying he was “compelled” by the officers to seek review “when you so clearly advocated for them to make that very request.”

“You seem to view the City of Seattle as merely the insurer of your client officers, but that is a convenient analysis that does not fit the facts,” the letter added.

In his statement, Buck said the city earlier had been dismissed from the case and that its legal position could not be affected by the request to the Supreme Court.

Buck said the officers were informed that the city disagreed and that they could seek the advice of outside counsel about the possible repercussions, but they “reiterated their desire to proceed.”

He said the final determination of whether the city must pay for the Supreme Court appeal under the police guild contract and state law would be determined later.

Stafford Frey once held an exclusive contract with the city, but Holmes ended the 40-year relationship last year, drawing a labor complaint from the guild. But Holmes kept Stafford Frey as one of three private firms that could be hired.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com