Thursday, September 22, 2005

What does King County pay for private lawyers? Here's good news and bad news

Bad News First

When I learned that King County DOT had hired a private law firm to represent its interests (and those of Weyerhaeuser) in defending their "arbitrary and capricious" traffic study for Redmond Ridge East, I was pretty disgusted. When I learned as a result of an early PDA request that DOT had already paid one private firm more than $200,000, I was furious. I mean this was roughly half of what opponents of Redmond Ridge, Trilogy and Redmond Ridge East had spent over a decade to fight county bias and "mistakes" in a half-dozen lawsuits related to these developments.

Now imagine my outrage when I learned today that King County DOT has actually spent more than a million dollars to hire not just one, but two law firms to defend itself - and its director and 2 managers - from challenges to its "arbitrary and capricious" traffic studies and the retaliation charges made against these 3 county employees by several King County DOT whistleblowers. These are the whistleblowers who tried to expose alleged improper and illegal acts by DOT in 2002, and lost their positions in reward for their efforts? In fact, the total dollars spent to these two law firms, as of this report, is an incredible $1,028,635!

... and counting!

Who thinks this is right? King County DOT has committed incredible acts to help developers in general for years, and has worked for developers like Weyerhaeuser's Quadrant Homes to grease the skids for Redmond Ridge, Trilogy and Redmond Ridge East. But could anyone have imagined that they'd spend over a million dollars to just two law firms to defend its grotesquely flawed and manipulated road study for Redmond Ridge East, and the allegedly improper retaliation by the departement's director and managers?

How can citizens fight those kinds of resources? Here is the letter I received today from John Gerberding in the King County Prosecuting Attorneys Office. Click here for the pdf (1.66 MB)

More Bad News

Private law firms engaged in active litigation on behalf of King County have been paid $3,471,323 since January 2003. Keep in mind that these are only active cases in King County right now. How much was spent on litigation in 2004 or 2003 in cases now closed?

Good News? You judge

So what's the good news in this report? Gerberding claims in response 3 that, "King County does not have retainer agreements with any private law firms or attorneys." But he goes on to state that, "All lawyers hired by King County must comply with Rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct which might, depending on the facts of a given situation, prohibit them from representing a client who has interests adverse to King County." So how convenient is that?

So if the county doesn't use retainers to tie up law firms, consider this list of law firms "which might" be prohibited from representing citizens in litigation challenging county wrongdoing:

Betts, Paterson
Buck & Gordon
Bullivant Houser
Burgess Fitzer
Edwards, Sieh, Smith, Goodfriend
Foster Pepper
Johnson Christie Andrews & Skinner
Lane Powell
Mills Meyers Swartling
Ogden Murphy Wallace
Perkins Coie
Preston Gates
Savitt & Bruce
Short Cressman Burgess
Stoel Rives
Summit Law Group
Vandeberg, Johnson & Gandara
Williams Kastner Gibbs
Winterbauer & Diamond

Update 9/30/2005
Received some additional firms not identified in original response:

Garvey Shubert & Barr
Karr Tuttle Campbell

These 2 bring the total to 21 law firms representing King County, and subsequently "off limits" to the public in litigation against county wrongdoing.


Update 9/24/2005

I've just faxed a new ethics complaint to the King County Ombudsman alleging conflicts of interest related to the continuing involvement by several King County DOT officials in matters related to Redmond Ridge East. Click here for that complaint.

These officials, including the DOT Road Services Director, are currently being sued in Federal Court for alleged wrongdoing and alleged retaliation against other DOT employees who tried to expose this wrongdoing. The Road Services director and 2 other supervisors have refused to recuse themselves from decisions related to Redmond Ridge East, which include the directing of taxpayer dollars, now in excess of $1 million, to defend themselves and DOT against whistleblower allegations of wrongdoing and personal allegations of retaliation against the DOT whistleblowers. The charges brought by the DOT whistleblowers against King County include allegations against these individuals personally that are outside the general protections granted to government employees working within their official capacities.



So what can we conclude from this information?

1) King County will spend whatever it needs to defend itself. It's our money, so why should they care?

2) King County has currently spent in excess of $1 million dollars to not one, but two private law firms to defend its "arbitrary and capricious" actions for Weyerhaeuser, and to defend the alleged personal wrongdoing by 3 county employees in DOT leadership.

3) King County effectively limits access to some pretty large law firms by hiring them to represent the county. Consider that if the King County Prosecuting Attorneys Office provided the representation as they are funded to do, most of these law firms would be available to the public to litigate actions against King County.

4) Under the leadership of Ron Sims, this waste of taxpayer dollars is ignored, and the policies that allow this spending - $3,471,323 since January 2003 on active cases - continue without resistance.

5) Under this strategy of spreading out current litigation among more than a dozen different law firms, King County quite effectively has purchased their allegiance and the public must settle on smaller and less influential firms, while they should expect to be met in court by these powerhouses.


Joe said...

I enjoy your writing and hope that you are making a difference. Ron Sims' should be ashamed to run the New Orleans of Washington State but liberals do not have a dignity gene. Keep atilting Mike and one day that windmill will fall.

David Anfinrud said...

Why not start an initiative that those members who cause lawsuits if they are lost have to pay the county back for all legal fees. See how some of these government officials will react to rulings that violate the law. Espicially KC Council. It it hits their pockets even 10% of the cost will it not make them think about their rulings that violate or expand already oppressive laws on the books.