Here's the third installment of our interview with the candidates for city attorney, incumbent Tom Carr and challenger Pete Holmes. The Stranger Election Control Board drilled down on a claim that's come up repeatedly from Carr's campaign—that Holmes isn't qualified for the position.
Pete, You have no criminal prosecuting experience—you’ve been a civil lawyer dealing with bankruptcy for the most part. Part of your critique of Carr is his management of the office. Can you talk about your management background, if there is one, and why we should feel comfortable having you in the role of chief criminal prosecutor in the city if you don’t have any criminal case experience?
HOLMES: You bet. I don’t want to understate the six and half years on the police oversight board. That really is where the rubber meets the road. I was on the front lines while operations are happening. I mean, the ride alongs, the officer involved shootings, being in Harborview when they’re actually treating a suspect that was shot by an officer. The amount of training that I went through from arrest to arraignment was quite an education, and I really savored it. I jumped in with both feet, really wanted to understand how this works, and found it an amazing, rewarding service to the public. So I don’t want to understate that. And frankly, coming into the office in 2010, I will have just as much prosecutorial experience as Tom did coming in in 2001. You know, Tom served on the civil side of the U.S. Attorney’s office, and I’ve been a civil lawyer. I’ve litigated RICO, both state and federal, as a civil lawyer just like Tom did with the U.S. Attorney.
Although, as you can tell, we’re not always totally happy with how that turned out. So, talk about your management experience.
HOLMES: My personal management style—I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years. I was at a large firm when I stepped down to join the OPA review board, Miller Nash downtown. I was the partner in charge of the insolvency reorganization group. A single case, for instance, that I handled for five years, had more at stake than the entire annual budget of Mr. Carr’s law department. I managed a number of lawyers in that firm, that has four offices. I was a hiring partner for the Seattle office. And believe me, with the clients that I serve ranging from national banks and Fortune 500 companies to indigent defendants that I would defend on a pro bono basis, the full range of experience that I had and managing—one quick example, Schweitzer Mountain Resort—it was litigation in four different states, probably involved 30 lawyers. I was the lead lawyer for that case. So, complex civil management, civil cases, give you a wealth of experience, and more importantly, in the private sector you get fired for the sort of results that have occurred in the city attorney’s office in the last eight years.
Do you have a critique of Pete’s record over eight years> And also, as you’re doing that, can you get at what Pete has cast as sort of the fundamental difference between the two of you. He sees the office of city attorney as responsible to the public, to the people, and suggests that you feel that your job is to represent the people, but your interpretation of city law?
CARR: I don’t believe the city attorney should be expressing his or her opinion on policy matters on the civil side. And there’s one really good reason. Nobody’s gonna trust a lawyer who’s telling the clients what outcome he wants. And that’s the worry that I have, which is why I don’t. So you’ll never hear me express a view on whether we should have a viaduct or a tunnel or a surface option. My job is to make—I have to represent the Department of Planning and Development, the Department of Transportation, City Light and SPU. And make them—and work with the state department of transportation on what we all find. City Hall doesn’t need yet another dissenting voice, we’ve got enough of those. We need people who can work together, so that’s the difference.
And Pete’s record?
CARR: Pete’s record. Three [OPA Review Board] reports in six years, $400,000—or $300,000 spent. The concept that—and the charge that he always makes, that I was somehow suppressing reports. All we ever did in my office was give Pete legal advice. And try to help him do his job. This concept that we were trying to suppress things, just not true. And the job of the OPA review board was to give statistical data to review the work of the whole OPA system. And for the six years we should have six reports—extensive reports doing that. And all I’ve ever heard about are three. And so, if that’s the achievement of six years, balance that against what I did over those six years: Created the community court, the North Precinct auto theft project, the infraction program. CGIS, the scheduling of trials, the savings on police overtime. All of these initiatives that I’ve undertaken in those years. I’m happy to provide the records.
[The OPA Review board has issued more than three reports, which you can see here.]
So let me ask Pete then. Do you think that in your capacity as chair of the OPA review board, you were trying to release information that arguably should have remained private, and that it’s too much to seek indemnity for all the members?
HOLMES: That’s the really insidious part of all this. The way that we were silenced was to hold our personal family finances hostage to an indemnification clause that would have us indemnifying the city, and how cavalier you personally and your office was toward that real, that very, very real problem.
CARR: Pete, let’s not reinvent history
HOLMES: No, let me finish, Tom, I haven’t interrupted you. And, you know, to spout out things again, talk about your facts. Every one of our reports are still on the OPA website, so be sure to go look at it. And the fact that you turn this around now and say that we’ve only released three reports, when actually—and it’s two a year, by the way, if you read the ordinance—and to summarize the ordinance as saying we’re supposed to provide statistical data on the oversight on the board is to so, uh, reduce to your view of the world what the OPA review board was. And it was simply to work on the implementation of the Office of Professional Accountability. We were three members, appointed by city council, after extensive interviews, after deliberations by the council, after background checks, for our judgment and views, to be the citizens’ eyes, if you will. And most of the community was skeptical about how, how aggressive we would be, how open we would be, the police department was. But what I, in the end, found was at the top of the city government, that was least interested in what we had to say, and, you know, look at those reports. We kept writing reports, and we wrote two reports every year. And sometimes you will find that we had to release those in tandem, there would be a couple of reports released together because we would write them, and sit on them and say we’re not going to subject ourselves to personal liability. It finally took city council to act and to alleviate our concerns when you were unable to and when the mayor refused to. And I think that one of the problems was that you refused to even listen to the analysis of your own city attorney. When Sandy Cohen wrote her opinion looking at our 2004 report and saying that ‘I can’t advise you on this,’ in essence, that the confidentiality agreement is so broad it’s impossible to predict what will be deemed to be confidential and what will not. To answer your question, Dominic, we never ever disclosed any officer information, personal identifying data, never ever recommended change in discipline, and when we finally sat down to explain why these reports were being withheld to the city, where you had supposedly been acting as my personal lawyer, Tom—not personal, but personally working with me—to assist in getting these reports out, you know, suddenly, when the cameras started rolling, you came at me with a whole litany of theories, like the statistical—your reports should be mostly numbers, things like that—that I had never heard in the past five months, until the cameras were rolling. And I had to wonder about what kind of a lawyer conducts business that way. I suddenly was having to defend the board’s work, you know, to the Seattle Channel Inside Out, and there you were, as I had said, right up front, sounding like the Guild’s lawyer. I, you know, to me, it’s an amazing thing. I wish that you could look back on it and say, ‘you know, we really should have considered carefully what the board was trying to accomplish. It would have been nice if you had backed up your own city attorney, who said this confidentiality agreement is impossibly broad. And instead, Tom, on this campaign trail, you have told labor unions that that was an example of where I tried to end run a labor contract. It had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with protecting my home and our savings from personal liability, so that we could do our job in good faith.