The Public Employment Relations Commission has affirmed the City Attorney’s right to decide who represents Seattle police officers against a range of allegations, including wrongful arrest and death, excessive use of force, police misconduct and violations of federal civil rights.
In a Sept. 5 decision the commission upheld a ruling by its examiner that using in-house counsel—and in some circumstances private lawyers selected by the CAO—was not a mandatory subject of bargaining.
In 2011 the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild filed an unfair labor practice after City Attorney Pete Holmes hired Assistant City Attorneys and sought bids from private firms and individual lawyers after the City’s long-standing and exclusive contract with one firm expired.
Siding with Holmes, the commission observed, “The employer’s reasons for changing who represents employees in police action lawsuit included: managing costs, providing direct oversight of litigation, increasing compliance with the City Attorney’s Office philosophy and strategic decisions, improving the ability to provide training, and increased transparency.” These managerial prerogatives outweighed the claimed impacts on wages that were alleged by the Guild.
To date the City Council has provided funding for three lawyers plus a paralegal and legal assistant. Handling police defense work inside CAO are Assistant City Attorneys Brian Maxey, Sarah Morehead and Christine Olson. In the case of a conflict of interest, or as other circumstances require, CAO employs private firms.
“I am gratified that PERC upheld my decision to bring much of the police action work in-house,” Holmes said Monday. “The driving force behind the change was, and remains, the City’s always challenging budget climate. Our office is now playing a much more supportive role in policy – by having a closer working relationship with the individual officers and the department.”