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Friday, June 10, 2011

Cop Union Takes Legal Action Against City

Posted by on Fri, Jun 10, 2011 at 6:52 PM

The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the union representing Seattle's street cops, has filed a complaint with the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission (a labor board that functions much like a court), claiming that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is trying to wrongly deny police their private defense attorneys.

In a complaint that's a little dense, SPOG makes two claims: (1) that their preferred private law firm is an insurance benefit that the city can't change except by collective bargaining; and (2) that the city doesn't provide attorney-client privilege in conversations between cops and the city attorney's office. (Here's the full complaint.)

According to the police union, Seattle cops sued for wrongful arrest, misconduct, excessive force, or civil-rights violations have a legal right to defense lawyers from an expensive private firm—paid for by taxpayers—called Stafford Frey Cooper. But Holmes insists they don't.

As I reported last week, he requested bids from other law firms and got 12 proposals back; Holmes estimates the city can save $800,000 a year by bringing most of the cops' defense work into his office and allowing one of those outside bidding law firms to handle cases when the city has a conflict of interest.

To give this some political context: It appears to be another example of SPOG scrambling to get the upper hand as it loses traction at City Hall.

The city has until June 29 to respond to SPOG's complaint, and Holmes hasn't issued a formal reply. However, Holmes says that he's invited SPOG to join the committee that will recommend the winning law firm—thereby allowing them to root for their beloved Stafford Frey Cooper—but SPOG never responded.

SPOG also hasn't responded to a request to comment on this story.


Comments (15) RSS

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Baconcat 1
Right wing union arguing on the premise of collective bargaining, a decidedly left-wing ideal.

Who's the socialist now, SPOG?
Posted by Baconcat on June 10, 2011 at 6:53 PM · Report this
Remember that just because a cop is being sued for a wrongful arrest, misconduct, excessive force or civil-rights violations doesn't mean the cop is assumed to be guilty of such violations. People sue cops for unjustifiable reasons all the time. We generally only hear about the comparatively small number of incidents that happen to be true.
Posted by bitwise on June 10, 2011 at 7:16 PM · Report this
Baconcat: SPOG is hardly right-wing. SPOG is most definately a union.

SPOG can't join Holmes' committee without undermining their argument that Holmes' committee violates their contract.
Posted by six shooter on June 10, 2011 at 7:41 PM · Report this
Hawke 4
#2 kind of hard to argue when you have shit tons of video proof of cops behaving badly. Fuck SPOG. That is one union that needs to be taken out back and killed.
Posted by Hawke on June 10, 2011 at 8:15 PM · Report this
The Wretched Harmony 5
That Article 14, 17, and Appendix B make a pretty strong case: "It is the intent of the parties to provide no less benefits for false arrest insurance than is currently enjoyed."

It says the city can't reduce the benefit from what they had before. And they city wants to offer lawyering worth $800,000 less. You get the lawyer you pay for. Ask O.J. Simpson.

If this was the Boeing machinists being told they had to accept a substitute for services that the contract said would be "no less benefits" then Strangerland would have no trouble knowing whose side to take. But there's a different standard for the cop union contract.
Posted by The Wretched Harmony on June 10, 2011 at 8:24 PM · Report this
O'neill and the SPOG can give head to a gun.
Posted by Swearengen on June 10, 2011 at 8:27 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 7
I agree with @5. Holmes wants to break a union contract to save money. Since when does the Stranger take that side? And to point out that TAXPAYERS are paying for the legal firm! That's the kind of baiting that Scott Walker uses to break teachers' unions.

Stafford Frey Cooper has more experience defending the police than any firm in the city. (How long have they had that contract?) So give SPOG a break for not considering the lowest bidder equivalent.
Posted by Free Lunch on June 10, 2011 at 9:20 PM · Report this

Insurance against lawsuits isn't the same as representation when those suits are filed. In order for SPOG to make that stick, they'd have to provide evidence that their current law firm is demonstrably better at providing legal council than some other firm, which might be pretty difficult, since they've never actually used any other firm to represent them. I would imagine an NLRB adjudicator would have to examine the case records of ALL the firms that have applied to represent SPD to make that determination, and while there's a possibility their chosen firm might come out on top, it's not necessarily a guarantee.

And using a dollar figure (the amount of money provided to the firm) doesn't - In my decidedly layman's opinion - meet that standard.

Also, if you're going to make that assertion, can you actually point to a provision in the IAM/Boeing Agreement that stipulates the union can designate the specific law firm that will represent them - at the company's expense - in any suits brought against them by outside parties?

Well Duh, @7: it's a Catch 22: SPOG says they MUST use this firm, because it's the ONLY FIRM they've ever allowed to represent their members. Therefore, no other firm could possibly be as successful, because they've never been hired to do so before. But that's not the issue. There may be other firms that could be just as successful as SFC in terms of representation, but how would anyone know that if they're never allowed to represent in the first place?
Posted by COMTE on June 10, 2011 at 11:29 PM · Report this
You may not be a lawyer, Comte, but you'd make a good one.
Posted by sarah68 on June 11, 2011 at 1:00 AM · Report this
Timrrr 10
Um... SPOG doesn't have a CONTRACT right now. Damn fools can't have any "benefits from collective bargaining" if they haven't signed a bargain to begin with!

They's abouts to get laughed outta court...
Posted by Timrrr on June 11, 2011 at 1:13 AM · Report this
Free Lunch 12
@8 - I think there's almost a 100% certainty that the adjudicator would pick SPOG's firm. In fact, it would seem pretty fishy if they didn't.

"Let's see... experience defending police officers: Stafford Frey Cooper: 100 cases; every other firm combined: 0 cases."

Sure, it's a Catch-22, but that doesn't mean they're free to disregard experience. Experience is huge - unless lawyering is somehow different from every other profession.

Would you choose the world's best heart surgeon to fix your ACL?
Posted by Free Lunch on June 11, 2011 at 12:42 PM · Report this
@sixshooter Unions aren't necessarily left wing at all. I know plenty of right wingers who support unions when it benefits them, case in point is my own father who works for another city's utility company and enjoys all the benefits of unions (and says he loves unions!) but supports candidates that want to tear down unions. It's mostly a stupidity issue.
Posted by tigntink on June 11, 2011 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Timrrr 15
@11: Thanks -- good to know.

@12: But they'll also look at their record of success. Stafford Frey Cooper has lost -- or settled pre-trial for HUGE payouts -- a large number of their cases of late.

Experience at failure, no matter how vast, is not an asset.

(But the real question a REPORTER should be asking is:
"How much has Stafford Frey Cooper donated to the Help the Officer Fund, Fallen Officer Fund and other SPOG related charities over the last few years??"
Posted by Timrrr on June 11, 2011 at 9:53 PM · Report this
@13 -- Sorry about your stupid dad. Ask him if he thinks his Union is left or right.
Posted by six shooter on June 12, 2011 at 12:33 PM · Report this
Why does SPOG use Vick, Julius, McClure and not Stafford Frey Cooper?? Is Vick less money then Stafford??

Posted by sugarbear on June 13, 2011 at 12:59 PM · Report this

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