When Christine Gregoire needs an attorney, she turns to Jenny Durkan, a Seattle attorney popular among the prominent and the political.

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When Christine Gregoire needs an attorney, she turns to Jenny Durkan, a Seattle attorney popular among the prominent and the political who find themselves entangled with the law.

But Durkan is also friend, confidante and political counselor to Gregoire. It’s a bond formed during Gregoire’s 12 years as attorney general, when, as the state’s chief attorney, she needed a private lawyer to avoid any conflict between her public and private lives.

With Gregoire’s election as governor facing an unprecedented trial and Republicans trying to remove her from office, it is Durkan again who argues for Gregoire in court.

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Not officially. Gregoire is not a party to the lawsuit filed by Republican candidate Dino Rossi and other party members, something she is quick to say when asked about her involvement in the case. And this time, Durkan is working for the Democratic Party, not Gregoire.

But there’s no question that when Durkan stands up in Chelan County Superior Court or plots strategy with the Democratic legal team, she’s there for Gregoire.

Durkan was the Gregoire campaign’s counsel, and from the earliest post-election legal discussions, Durkan was seen as “essentially an agent for Christine,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt.

Durkan was involved in plotting court strategy and developing legal arguments. But she didn’t appear in court.

Gregoire said she didn’t ask Berendt to include Durkan on the legal team. But after Durkan’s mostly behind-the-scenes work, the message came through.

“It was important to Christine that Jenny have a greater role in these later court cases, and she made that really clear,” Berendt said.

Publicly, Gregoire has worked to distance herself, and all but disconnect herself, from the post-election legal wrangling and Democrats’ demand for a hand recount of the race, which resulted in Rossi’s victory being overturned. When Democrats filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court in December, Gregoire said, “I’m not the lawyer here. I’m not the client. I am an extremely interested third party.”

She answers questions about her involvement with statements about focusing on being governor and concedes to little interest in the current court case.

AP

Jenny Durkan said she has heard “virtually nothing” from Christine Gregoire about the lawsuit challenging Gregoire’s election as governor.

Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance calls Durkan Gregoire’s “fixer.”

“Jenny Durkan’s not just a lawyer. She is a major figure within the Democratic Party,” Vance said. “I would be stunned if Jenny Durkan and Christine Gregoire weren’t meeting and talking about strategy on this case constantly.”

Durkan is an experienced courtroom lawyer who earlier in her career specialized in defending people accused of white-collar crime. She is a scion of a prominent Washington Democratic family and a party activist with her own political ambitions.

She is the daughter of Martin Durkan Sr., a former state Senate Ways and Means chairman and the mentor of former governor and former congressman Mike Lowry.

After Lowry was accused of sexual misconduct while governor, he hired Jenny Durkan to be his office attorney and help steady the administration.

She was there about five months before resigning and saying the burgeoning controversy made it impossible for her to do the job she was hired for.

Durkan met Gregoire after Gregoire was elected attorney general in 1992. In 1996, Durkan represented the attorney general in a Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) investigation into Gregoire’s relationship with the Seattle law firm of Foster Pepper & Shefelman. Gregoire worked at the firm while running for attorney general.

The PDC ruled that Gregoire failed to properly disclose details of her connections to the firm but said the violations were minor and unintentional.

Durkan was called in again as Gregoire’s personal attorney in a case involving the Attorney General’s Office missing a deadline for filing an appeal, a blunder that ultimately cost the state $20 million.

Durkan also has represented Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in a case involving a cable-TV company controlled by the billionaire; represented the family of a retired Seattle firefighter killed by a violent schizophrenic released from the King County Jail; and served as a citizen observer on Seattle’s firearms-review board.

When Gregoire announced in 2003 she would run for governor, Durkan considered campaigning to replace her as attorney general. But she said the timing wasn’t right and didn’t want to spend the time away from her two sons, now 3 and 7 years old. Since they were born, Durkan has worked a flexible schedule, sometimes part time and often from her Seattle home.

Gregoire encouraged Durkan to run and offered her political advice, and the two talked a lot about balancing public and family lives.

Now, as the governor’s election lawsuit moves toward trial, Durkan and Gregoire said they don’t talk much about the case that has dominated the headlines.

Durkan said she has heard “virtually nothing” from Gregoire about the suit.

“We update her, but she’s not involved at all on strategy day to day,” Durkan said. “She’s just so focused on being governor.”

They talk about once a week and Durkan calls to tell Gregoire what happened in court.

Gregoire said she does not advise, nor even consent, in her party’s legal moves.

“I have not lawyered it at all,” Gregoire said. “I haven’t gone to the books. I haven’t done the research, and I cannot opine on it.”

Gregoire had high praise for the full team of Democratic attorneys. It is overseen by David McDonald, the party’s longtime counsel and an experienced corporate litigator who has managed some of Microsoft’s major cases.

Kevin Hamilton of Seattle’s Perkins Coie is an expert in election and labor law and has represented Boeing, Starbucks and Allen’s holding company, Vulcan.

Democrats also hired a local Wenatchee attorney, Russ Speidel, who has experience before Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com