The only firm that can defend a lawsuit against a Seattle cop is Stafford Frey Cooper, which has held a exclusive no-bid contract with the city since the 1980s. According to city records, the firm has averaged $1.8 million in litigation fees annually over the past decade. And that's exactly how the Seattle Police Officers Guild—which has threatened to sue the city if that ever changes—wants it.
But now Stafford Frey Cooper stands to lose its sweetheart deal. For the first time, Stafford Frey Cooper is competing with a whopping 12 law firms that have submitted proposals to represent Seattle police officers who face allegations of wrongful arrest, misconduct, excessive force, or civil-rights violations. (City Attorney Pete Holmes released a request for bids earlier this year from other law firms.) Holmes calls the 12 other bids "weighty proposals."
"Taxpayers will benefit from a competitive legal bidding government," says Holmes. He estimates the city can save $800,000 a year by bringing most legal defense work into his office, letting his attorneys do most of the work Stafford Frey Cooper does now, and selecting these outside bidding law firms to handle cases when the city has a conflict of interest. As for officers, Holmes says, "They will benefit from the wide array of legal talent that have expressed interest in this work."
There were two types of bids. First, in the category of ligation defense, 12 firms submitted bids: Keating, Bucklin & McCormack; Ogden Murphy Wallace; Lee Smart; Cozen O'Connor; Christie Law Group; Patterson Buchanan Fobes Leitch & Kalzer; Northcraft, Bigby & Biggs; Friemund Jackson Tardif & Benedict Garratt; Forsberg & Umlauf; Scheer & Zehnder; Stafford Frey Cooper; and Kenyon Disend. The second category were firms bidding to send a lawyer to scenes where an officer had a significant use of force, any time, day or night. Those three bidders include: Karr Tuttle Campbell; Christie Law Group; and again Stafford Frey Cooper.
Holmes has not released the details of the bids, citing confidentiality agreements. A panel of city officials and outside legal experts will select the top three bidders and make a recommendation. Holmes will pick the winning bidder.
SPOG president Rich O'Neill has said unequivocally in the past that if Holmes accepted bids from other firms, “We will file legal action against the city.” There's still no word from SPOG about legal action.
The conflict—as we've reported in the past—stems from a dispute over whether officers sued for alleged misconduct are entitled to expensive private attorneys at their chosen law firm on the city’s dime. SPOG, a union of roughly 1,350 officers, says they are entitled by nonnegotiable contract terms to those private and expensive lawyers. But the city, namely Holmes, insists cops aren’t entitled to pricey attorneys and that the city's lawyers can handle most of those cases.