The Office of the Seattle City Attorney is also known as the Law Department under Article XIII of the City Charter. With more than 90 attorneys, the City's Law Department is one of the largest law offices in Seattle and is the third largest public law office in the state.
The Law Department is divided into four major divisions:
The Administration Division staff provide budgeting, accounting, human resource, clerical and information technology services for the City Attorney's Office.
The Criminal Division prosecutes traffic infractions, misdemeanors, and gross misdemeanors in Seattle Municipal Court. The types of cases prosecuted by the Criminal Division include driving under the influence, traffic infractions, misdemeanor domestic violence, misdemeanor theft, and trespassing.
The Civil Division represents the City in lawsuits and advises City officials as they develop programs, projects, policies, and legislation. The sections within the Civil Division are torts (claims), governmental affairs, land use, environmental protection, labor and employment, and contracts/utilities.
The Precinct Liaison Division assigns an assistant city attorney as a liaison to each of the City's five police precincts as another way of addressing public safety and neighborhood livability problems.
Read our Frequently Asked Questions about the Law Department.
To schedule appointments with the City Attorney, please use the Customer Service Request Form to request an appointment.
The mission of the City Attorney's Office
As the Seattle Police Department (SPD) moves toward the compliance assessment phase, CAO is its partner on policy development, training curricula and auditing protocol. We protect the City's interests in employee rights while also ensuring the integrity of SPD accountability measures for officer performance. Our lawyers collaborate with the Monitoring Team, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and SPD to ensure that the letter and spirit of the settlement agreement are integrated throughout SPD's policies and practices while promoting engaged and proactive policing throughout the community.
It's one thing to discredit the failed policy of prohibition for the War on Drugs. It's another to substitute, from the ground up, a new, state-licensed marijuana supply system that promises to regulate a potentially harmful drug where prohibition has failed. Over two years after voters approved I-502, retail stores have opened in Seattle and across the state; the supply of marijuana is increasing to meet demand, and our struggle now is to bring the medical marijuana industry and its consumers under state regulation.
The City Attorney sees the availability of affordable housing as essential to Seattle remaining the vibrant, livable city we all want it to be. Affordable housing means that lower- and middle-class families can enjoy the great public spaces and schools; it means that new immigrants and school teachers can mingle on the streets with Amazon techies and Boeing executives. But sustaining affordable housing and making sure that its availability keeps pace with the City's burgeoning growth presents many legal questions that our office is studying, including:
- Whether the City can put requirements on landlords that encourages preservation of affordable rental units.
- What methods of funding affordable housing are legal.
- Whether the City can raise the fees it charges developers in exchange for increased development space to meet the demand for more affordable housing that comes with development.
- Whether the City can require inclusionary zoning to facilitate the development of affordable housing.
State statutes, federal and state constitutions and complex land use regulations must all be considered in planning the City's route to affordable housing. CAO is making it a priority to support the Council and the mayor in finding legally viable ways to meet the City's affordable housing needs.
Seattle is a full-service municipal corporation with a nearly $4 billion annual operating budget. Every year, nearly 100 lawyers and 60 legal professionals in the CAO advise and defend city officials in all aspects of city functions. The professionals in CAO's four divisions - Civil, Criminal, Precinct Liaison and Administration - strive to solve the thorniest problems presented us by the City Council, Mayor's Office and all the City departments.
The Criminal Division prosecutes misdemeanor violations of the Seattle Municipal Code. Simple misdemeanors are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and gross misdemeanors are punishable by up to 364 days in jail and $5,000 in fines. CAO also will attend contested infraction (ticket) hearings for SPD. Experienced teams go to trial on DUI and domestic violence cases. Many other cases warrant disposition through SMC's therapeutic courts - mental health, community and veterans' treatment. Increasingly, the Criminal Division, in full cooperation with SPD, is actively focusing on investigating and prosecuting the buyers of sex, whom we believe are the real offenders. The crime of patronizing a prostitute is now labeled sexual exploitation.