An ongoing spat between two Seattle lawyers has taken another turn: Criminal defense attorney John Henry Browne has sued opposing counsel Karen Koehler’s law firm for defamation on behalf of his client.
A spat between two prominent Seattle lawyers has taken yet another turn.
In an unusual move, celebrity defense attorney John Henry Browne has sued the law firm of Karen Koehler — his opposing counsel in a high-profile wrongful- death case — claiming the firm has defamed Browne’s client.
The lawsuit, filed July 12 on behalf of accused killer Tracy McNamara, contends the firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Koehler Moore Kahler has distributed “irrefutably false and defamatory” statements about McNamara on its legal website as part of “an effort to aggressively and zealously advertise for additional business and to prejudice potential jurors.”
The suit seeks damages, legal costs and a court order forcing the firm to remove any false statements from its website.
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Koehler, the former president of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association who now represents 20 victims of last year’s deadly Ride the Ducks tourist- vehicle crash, declined to comment on Friday, referring questions to her own attorney.
“It’s a retaliatory lawsuit and it’s utterly meritless,” Bruce Johnson, Koehler’s lawyer, said in a brief phone call Friday. (Johnson and his firm, Davis Wright Tremaine, have represented The Seattle Times in various legal matters.)
McNamara’s lawsuit is the latest turn in an ongoing squabble that has spilled publicly from the courthouse in recent months. The dispute has even led the state’s bar association to cancel plans to reprint part of Browne’s recently published memoirs.
Browne and Koehler are opposing each other in the 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 spat between the two attorneys over the case led Koehler to write publicly about it on her blog in May, revealing that Browne had repeatedly bullied and disparaged her, including calling her a “whack job” and insulting her looks.
Browne, who doesn’t dispute making the statements to Koehler, has claimed that she “started it.” He also contends Koehler has exaggerated the dispute to seek publicity for herself.
Browne, a lawyer for more than 40 years, has represented such high-profile criminals as serial killer Ted Bundy, mass murderer Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales and the so-called “Barefoot Bandit.” He said publicity about his fight with Koehler recently cost him a write-up about his new memoir, “The Devil’s Defender.”
After a story about the spat landed in The Seattle Times in June, the Washington State Bar Association backed away from plans to publish a Q&A with Browne and an excerpt from his book.
“There has been a lot of discussion about that article in the legal community, and since the Washington State Bar is the regulator of the state’s legal profession and NWLawyer is its official publication, we are not able to put the WSBA in the middle of that,” Linda Jenkins, editor of NWLawyer, recently wrote in an email to Browne’s publicist.
Browne said in an email he blamed Koehler for the bar’s move.
“Our Bar is SO politically correct it’s almost like a terminal illness,” he said, adding that lawyers’ publications in California and Illinois were still planning to promote his book.
Browne’s lawsuit against Koehler contends, among other things, that her firm has erroneously described Tracy McNamara as a murderer, even though she has not been convicted of that crime; has falsely described her as the subject of an “Interpol Warrant”; and has incorrectly claimed it obtained a seven-figure civil judgment against McNamara, even though the case remains ongoing.
The suit claims such false statements have directly led to Tracy McNamara’s being wrongly detained while shopping in Ephrata last year and to her becoming “a pariah in the small town in which she lives.”
Johnson, the attorney for Koehler, noted Friday he can’t remember another case during his career when an attorney has sued an opposing counsel over statements made about a case.
Among other defenses, Johnson said, the legal doctrine known as “litigation privilege” protects lawyers and parties in a lawsuit from defamation claims arising from statements made during the course of the case.