A photo of City Attorney Pete Holmes at a 2011 Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
A photo of City Attorney Pete Holmes at a 2011 Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Dominic Holden

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A local defense lawyer has asked a municipal judge to throw out at least four cases against accused sex buyers caught up in Seattle Police Department stings. In a forcefully written brief, attorney Tim Leary argues that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes sabotaged these cases by writing a letter to municipal court judges explaining his policy of not offering diversion to men accused of soliciting sex workers.

Leary claims that letter, which was also sent to the mayor, police chief and The Stranger, was intended to sway judges and jurors in favor of Holmes' policy. He calls the letter an act of prosecutorial misconduct. Holmes wrote to judges that 90 percent of "prostituted people" in Seattle work in the sex trade by force, coercion, or exploitation, and that eliminating the option for accused johns helps end demand for paid sex. Steven Hsieh and I published a piece last month describing how Presiding Municipal Court Judge Karen Donahue challenged Holmes' policy in one of these sex buyer cases, a decision that the city is now appealing in court.

Leary's motion, filed on behalf of four men caught in Seattle Police Department stings, says that Holmes "crossed a significant legal and ethical line" by sending the letter, which Leary says constitutes "ex parte" communication. "Ex parte" refers to communication with a judge without the other party's counsel present—a breach of ethics rules. "The letter can only be described as self-serving propaganda," the motion reads.

A spokesperson from the Seattle City Attorney's office said that the office "strongly dispute(s) the motion’s assertions."

"The letter to the judges was not an improper ex parte submission because it was an open letter available to the public and addresses general office policies rather than specific cases," the statement from the City Attorney's office reads. "This is consistent with Washington Supreme Court case law. It has also been sent to defense counsel in the pending sexual exploitation cases."

But that argument, Leary says, "is frankly hooey."

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"I don't know how he characterizes it as a public letter," Leary, a former King County deputy prosecutor, says. "The only place I was able to find the letter was a hyperlink on your website."

To back up that point, Leary then forwarded an e-mail from Judge Karen Donahue sent just today alerting Leary to the existence of Holmes' letter. "After reviewing the letter, the bench feels it is appropriate to forward it to those of you who are currently representing clients on Sexual Exploitation charges," the e-mail reads.

The city's response to Leary's motion is due on October 12.