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Originally published March 6, 2013 at 8:55 PM | Page modified March 7, 2013 at 7:36 AM

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Attempt to resolve dispute between mayor, city attorney falters

Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes remained locked in a dispute over who has authority to approve a police-reform plan.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sought Wednesday to stem his public battle with City Attorney Pete Holmes over police reforms, but Holmes said he wouldn’t accept the offer until McGinn “withdraws and disclaims” accusations attacking his integrity.

McGinn declined to accept Holmes’ demand, prolonging a deadlock that has roiled the city for more than a week.

In an interview on KIRO radio Wednesday morning, McGinn said he was sorry the fighting had escalated and signaled his intent to call a meeting with Holmes, Police Chief John Diaz and Merrick Bobb, the independent monitor tracking the reforms, in a joint effort to reach a binding accord.

“I really regret that we’re at this position publicly,” McGinn said. “I really have to say that. It’s not where I think either of us want to be.”

But McGinn’s bid contrasted with a sharply worded six-page letter sent on Tuesday by his legal counsel, Carl Marquardt, to Holmes and the chief of the City Attorney’s civil division, Jean Boler, in which Marquardt repeatedly questioned Holmes’ ethics and judgment.

Marquardt unleashed a litany of complaints and accusations, dating to Holmes’ unsuccessful effort in 2011 to block a public vote on the waterfront tunnel opposed by McGinn. He maintained that Holmes had improperly intervened in that matter and then had interfered in the city’s negotiations with Bobb to reach agreement on a monitoring plan for the Police Department.

Holmes has asserted that, as the elected city attorney, the City Charter gives him “supervisory control” over the city’s litigation — including negotiations with Bobb to reach agreement on a plan to curb excessive force and biased policing required under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice.

McGinn, citing his role as the city’s chief executive officer, has insisted he has final authority to approve or reject Bobb’s proposals. He and Diaz have pointedly challenged some of Bobb’s proposals, while Holmes has urged collaboration with the monitor.

Bobb, the head of a nonprofit police-assessment center in Los Angeles, submitted his 23-page proposed monitoring plan Tuesday to U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing the case. It listed a broad range of first-year goals.

Federal attorneys swiftly filed court papers Wednesday giving their approval to the plan, saying it would provide “guidance to the parties and create clear expectations for the people of Seattle.”

It also meets the terms of the settlement agreement, creates no new obligations, avoids unnecessary delays and allows for collaboration, the attorneys said.

Marquardt, in his letter to Holmes, described the city as now being in “three-way negotiation,” in which city attorneys assert their authority to negotiate with Bobb, possibly contrary to the mayor’s interests.

“As Mr. Bobb reportedly told a group of officers on Tuesday night, ‘It seems like the city doesn’t know who’s on first base; they don’t know who’s in charge or what’s going on,’ ” Marquardt wrote.

He noted Holmes had asserted his independent authority in bringing the tunnel suit, but had been overruled by the court.

“You have since asserted the court was wrong,” Marquardt wrote.

In that case, Marquardt added, the court found that the word “supervisory” means to “to oversee.”

“The phrase ‘supervisory control’ indicates that you are the manager of the Law Department, responsible for marshalling and supervising attorneys who represent the city in litigation,” he wrote. “It does not, as you have claimed, establish that you are ‘coequal with the mayor and city council,’ with ultimate decision-making authority regarding the city’s position.”

Marquardt also accused Holmes of interfering in the negotiations with the Justice Department that led to the settlement agreement.

“The pattern that has emerged is that when you are engaged in this matter, and disagreements arise, you work to characterize the mayor as being opposed to police reform in order to advance your position,” Marquardt wrote.

Marquardt asked Holmes if he would join in asking a state court judge to settle who has the authority to make legal decisions on behalf of the city, as well as Holmes’ obligations under rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

McGinn, in a separate memo on Tuesday, directed Holmes to obtain his written authorization before approving Bobb’s plan.

On Wednesday, Holmes’ office issued a written statement saying Marquardt’s letter was “filled with inaccurate and unwarranted accusations and assertions, and even called for litigation” between the two offices.

The statement welcomed McGinn’s radio remarks, citing the willingness of the City Attorney’s Office to work with the mayor and Police Department to do what is best for the city.

“Unfortunately, until the mayor withdraws and disclaims yesterday’s letter and memorandum, we will be forced to continue preparing a response, “ the statement said.

In the meantime, the statement said, city attorneys are “diligently working” to prepare for a court hearing next week before Robart to discuss the status of the case.

McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus said in an email, “No, we don’t withdraw and disclaim. But we are interested in meeting to see if we can find a path forward together.” He said the Justice Department had been invited to participate.

Pickus said McGinn also “continues to wish to meet with the city attorney to ensure the city has appropriate legal representation.”

Asked if McGinn was open to accepting Bobb’s framework, Pickus said that was open to discussion.

Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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