Two weeks ago, Seattleites learned that the City Attorney overspent his office’s budget on outside counsel and litigation costs by $13 million. This weekend, the Seattle Times reported that spending on outside counsel has increased by 400% in the last three years: 2014 -- $1.6m, 2015 -- $4.4m; 2016 -- $7.3m. According to the City’s Budget Director, Holmes’ increase in outside counsel spending left a gaping hole in the budget and meant less money for essential services and programs.
The Times also reported this weekend that Holmes solicited campaign contributions from many of the attorneys working on contracts for the City Attorney’s Office. In Holmes’ own words: “We hire a lot of lawyers and I call a lot of lawyers [for donations].” Holmes insists that this is all above reproach. I disagree. Holmes’ solicitation of campaign contributions from attorneys working on City contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars creates the appearance of pay-to-play politics and undermines the integrity of the office.
Most troubling are the numerous examples of political donations and fundraisers by attorneys made close-in-time to those same attorneys being awarded a contract with the City Attorney. For example, on September 6, 2017, Holmes held a fundraiser at a small, boutique law firm, Savitt Bruce Willey LLP. All but one of the partners of that firm served as co-hosts for the fundraiser. Two days later, September 8, the City Attorney awarded a $25,000 contract to the firm. The following week, the City Attorney awarded another contract to the same firm. Two days later, on September 15, the firm’s founder and his wife donated the maximum contribution. In total, that small law firm has received over $1.7 million in payments for legal work from the City Attorney’s Office in the last two years.
In another instance, Holmes held his campaign kickoff on April 5, 2017 at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. That firm has received $2.2 million from the City Attorney in the last two years. The campaign kickoff was hosted by a senior partner at the firm, Jeff Coopersmith, and raised almost $5,000. Just days before the campaign event, the City Attorney awarded two contracts to Mr. Coopersmith. In September, the Stranger reported on the unusual hiring of Mr. Coopersmith at $570 per hour to argue a criminal motion in Seattle Municipal Court.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. Attorneys working on over half of the City Attorney contracts for Seattle-based work in 2017 have donated to Holmes campaign in this election.
So here’s my pledge: As a candidate and when I am City Attorney, I will not solicit donations from attorneys with active contracts with the City Attorney’s Office. That is the right thing to do. I ask that Mr. Holmes join me in this pledge and to return campaign contributions that he solicited from attorneys working on contracts that he oversees.
As City Attorney, I will bring more work in-house to be handled by Assistant City Attorneys and, when outside counsel is necessary, judiciously manage those legal fees with the same strict cost control measures that large companies like Amazon and Microsoft employ.