A private spat between prominent Seattle attorneys Karen Koehler and John Henry Browne has spilled out publicly.
Let’s get ready to rumble!
In this corner, the tenacious personal-injury attorney and former president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, whose clients include multiple victims of last year’s deadly Ride the Ducks tourist-vehicle crash.
Weighing in with more than 30 years of experience, working under the trademarked nickname “The Velvet Hammer,” it’s Karen Koehler!
And in this corner, the flamboyant, well-coiffed trial advocate with a career client list that includes serial killer Ted Bundy, the “Barefoot Bandit” and mass murderer Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
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A contemptuous, private spat between the two prominent Seattle attorneys has spilled into the public ring, after Koehler recently wrote on her professional blog that Browne has repeatedly disparaged her in emails during months of communications about an ongoing case.
Published under the headline, “How many insults does it take for me to call you a three letter word,” Koehler’s May 26 blog post lists excerpts from assorted emails in which Browne describes her as a “whack job,” variously insults her looks and tells her to “get some help.”
“You must be living a very sad life needing virtual friends,” Browne said in one emailed remark. “I just hope and pray you are better prepared for the next deposition, your last performance was embarrassing.”
Asked last week why she publicly posted the blog, Koehler explained that she finally got fed up with Browne’s “bully tactics.”
“It just came to a point where I said, ‘Forget it,’ ” she said. “I don’t have to take this.”
Browne, who when contacted last week said he hadn’t read Koehler’s blog post, doesn’t dispute that it accurately reflects parts of emails he sent to her. But he insists Koehler instigated the tiff with her own unprofessional behavior.
“She started it,” Browne said. “I don’t do things like this. But I think it’s hilarious that she’s updated her blog all about it. She loves publicity.”
The two lawyers 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 they later issued a murder warrant for McNamara’s wife, who is also his niece, Tracy (Nessl) McNamara. Tracy McNamara, 44, denies killing her late husband and has since returned to live on his farm in Soap Lake.
Koehler’s firm is representing the dead man’s children; Browne co-represents the accused.
In her blog post, Koehler doesn’t specifically name Browne, but she describes her insulter as “a very well-known criminal defense lawyer (with) initials starting in J and ending in B. Middle initial H.”
Koehler, who served as the state Trial Lawyers Association’s president from 2007 to 2008 and lectures at the University of Washington Law School, explained in the post that Browne’s remarks, including one sent while she grieved her mother’s recent death, led her to recently use an expletive in an email.
“John — you are an ass,” she wrote.
In turn, excerpts from Browne’s emails show he has threatened to file a complaint against Koehler with the Washington State Bar Association.
“You may think this all good fun but twice now you have invoked my age,” Browne wrote in one email. “That will be part of the Bar complaint. Maybe you should think before you write!!!”
Koehler said she initially believed Browne was joking in his responses to her emails, which she maintains were direct but professional.
“Then I realized he wasn’t joking,” she said. “And it’s not just emails, it’s phone calls, it’s in-person depositions, it’s constant and it’s wild.”
Browne said his emails to Koehler were simply a response to her inappropriate conduct that started during a deposition of Tracy McNamara.
“She asked my client — who is a very attractive woman — whether she’d ever had plastic surgery,” he said. “That was just nasty.”
After the deposition, Browne said Koehler wrote “this long, three-page email that was, like, bizarre. It was really weird. So I responded to her: ‘Ms. Koehler, you should know that a crazy person has hacked your email.’ ”
Browne’s actual email used the term “whack job,” and he also told Koehler her question about cosmetic surgery seemed like “you might be looking for a referral.”
“He’s also told me I’m fat, that I don’t have a life, that I look like a fool, that I’m pathetic,” Koehler said. “I don’t take these (remarks) well.”
Browne countered that Koehler’s public blog post is likely “a pre-emptive hit” to his plans to sue her firm for libel over allegedly disseminating false and damaging information about the McNamara case.
“It’s sad,” Browne added. “I have a feeling she stays up until 11 o’clock at night writing her blogs. I don’t even know what a blog is, OK?”
Koehler, who denies her firm is floating any false information, said she’s never before encountered a lawyer who has used such immature tactics.
“I believe in freedom of speech,” she said. “But if he wants to come at me, I’m going to come right back at him.”