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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

Read the guest essay defending City Attorney Pete Holmes that The Seattle Times refused to publish before the August Top Two election

The Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al page set out to nail cur­rent City Attor­ney Pete Holmes in the August Top Two elec­tion, endors­ing Repub­li­can Ann Davi­son and false­ly blam­ing Holmes for fail­ing to pros­e­cute mis­de­meanor crimes.

They got him. Three-term incum­bent Holmes end­ed up as odd-per­son-out in a three-way con­test involv­ing him­self, Davi­son, and pub­lic defender/bartender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who had the back­ing of The Stranger. The Stranger had sup­port­ed Holmes dat­ing back to 2009, when he unseat­ed incum­bent Tom Carr.

“Fairview Fan­nie” has a mem­o­ry, dat­ing to the 2017 elec­tion when the paper tout­ed Holmes’ chal­lenger – a son-in-law to for­mer Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire – only to see Holmes reelect­ed with more than sev­en­ty per­cent of the vote.

Brier Dud­ley, the Times’ free press edi­tor, also roast­ed Holmes over the mat­ter of May­or Durkan’s miss­ing emails, which the Times has sued to obtain.

The city has countersued.

Under jour­nal­is­tic tra­di­tion of fair­ness, a response would have been in order. Not on the news pages, but on the Times opin­ion page.

(This scribe has long wished he could get the Times’ excel­lent report­ing on doorstep or online, with­out the paper’s edi­to­r­i­al page.)

Such a response (from an expert!) was received. The Times chose not to publish.

The guest essay was penned by Seat­tle attor­ney Ram­sey Ramer­man, who was deeply involved in uncov­er­ing the City Hall scandal.

Ramer­man rep­re­sents gov­ern­ment agen­cies in Pub­lic Records Act lit­i­ga­tion and is co-edi­tor-in-chief of the Wash­ing­ton State Bar Association’s Pub­lic Records Act Desk­book. He was an orig­i­nal mem­ber of the State Sun­shine Committee.

Below is the guest essay that the Seat­tle Times did not run. Judge for your­self whether read­ers of the news­pa­per – vot­ing on whether to retain Holmes in office — should have been able to see it. Here goes:

It would be fool­ish for Pete Holmes to pledge nev­er to sue a Pub­lic Records Act requestor again.

I have worked with Pete Holmes and sev­er­al of the attor­neys in his office for over a decade, pri­mar­i­ly on pub­lic records issues, and I have seen how his office has worked hard to pro­mote the inter­ests of trans­paren­cy while also look­ing out for the inter­ests of the tax­pay­ers. The Times’ cri­tiques of Mr. Holmes are as mis­guid­ed as the Times’ pre­ma­ture law­suit against the City.

I first met Mr. Holmes when he took over Tom Carr’s seat on the State Sun­shine Com­mit­tee. From our first inter­ac­tion, it was clear that he under­stood the two duties that gov­ern­ment attor­neys owe to the pub­lic when work­ing on pub­lic records compliance.

First, the attor­ney is respon­si­ble for mak­ing sure his client is only with­hold­ing the records that the pub­lic has direct­ed the gov­ern­ment to keep secret in the Pub­lic Records Act.

Sec­ond, the attor­ney is respon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing the public’s tax dol­lars from being burned up in waste­ful litigation.

This sec­ond task is about a lot more than just good lit­i­ga­tion tac­tics – in fact most of the real work involves devel­op­ing train­ing and the adop­tion of pro­ce­dures, which hap­pens before a request is even made. Over the years I have seen Mr. Holmes and the attor­neys he hires work to ful­fill both of these duties that have served the pub­lic well.

This spring, I received an inside view of Mr. Holmes’ ded­i­ca­tion to these pub­lic duties when I was hired by Seat­tle Ethics and Elec­tion Com­mis­sion to inves­ti­gate a whistle­blow­er com­plaint at the city.

The inves­ti­ga­tion showed that Mr. Holmes’ office had pro­vid­ed sound legal advice that would have served the city well had it been fol­lowed. His office had also pro­vid­ed train­ing and mod­el best prac­tices for city employ­ees and depart­ments city-wide.

And when the inves­ti­ga­tion showed that the city had vio­lat­ed the law, the attor­neys in his office made no effort to sup­press my inves­ti­ga­tion and instead accept­ed the results by reopen­ing the requests that had been improp­er­ly closed.

Which leads us to the sec­ond duty – pro­tect­ing the public’s tax dol­lars – the Seat­tle Times’ law­suit and the city’s counterclaim.

First, the city’s coun­ter­claim against the Times did not expose the Times to any addi­tion­al costs or burdens.

The Pub­lic Records Act does not per­mit attor­ney fee awards against requestors like the Times, and the city’s claim was sim­ply a mir­ror of the Times’ claims so it did not add any addi­tion­al issues that would have increased the Times’ lit­i­ga­tion costs.

Sec­ond, the city’s coun­ter­claim would have served the tax­pay­ers’ inter­est by giv­ing the city a tool to pre­vent the Times from unnec­es­sar­i­ly drag­ging out the litigation.

Final­ly, for rea­sons too detailed to address here, Mr. Holmes is cor­rect that the Times law­suit is pre­ma­ture giv­en that the city is still work­ing on those requests, so the law­suit should be dismissed.

For the Times to insist that Mr. Holmes pledge nev­er to file a coun­ter­claim against a requestor is short­sight­ed and if fol­lowed would cost the taxpayers.

Because the Pub­lic Records Act’s dai­ly penal­ty can con­tin­ue to accrue dur­ing lit­i­ga­tion, there are times when it is in the tax­pay­ers’ inter­ests to secure a speedy res­o­lu­tion of these disputes.

Con­verse­ly, a requestor might be moti­vat­ed to drag out a pub­lic records law­suit know­ing each day increas­es the poten­tial reward. By fil­ing a coun­ter­claim, Pete Holmes was look­ing out for the tax­pay­ers’ interests.

An end note:

With self-absorp­tion and self-praise, The Seat­tle Times has made a big deal of its dogged pur­suit of pub­lic records and com­mit­ment to open gov­ern­ment. The news­pa­per should dis­play an equal com­mit­ment to pub­lic com­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly from one as inti­mate­ly involved as Ram­sey Ramer­man. Read­ers deserved to receive a defense of Holmes, even if the news­pa­per was hot for his blood.

Sure, the con­tro­ver­sy is com­pli­cat­ed, but Wash­ing­ton was — and remains — a pio­neer­ing state with respect to its robust pub­lic dis­clo­sure laws.

Pete Holmes was first elect­ed, in part, due to his efforts as a cit­i­zen to pry open the closed dis­ci­pli­nary pro­ce­dures of the Seat­tle Police Department.

The fail­ure to pub­lish Ramerman’s let­ter under­scores the dan­gers of hav­ing a monop­oly… a one-dai­ly-news­pa­per town with result­ing out­sized influence.

We need open jour­nal­ism to nour­ish open government.

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One Comment

  1. The Blethens are a blight, an excel­lent argu­ment for high inher­i­tance taxes.

    # by Aaron Pailthorp :: August 26th, 2021 at 5:06 PM
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