RICHLAND – A jury of five men and four women from central Washington was sworn in Thursday to decide whether the city of Spokane got bad legal advice in the River Park Square garage deal.
If they agree with the city that it did, they can determine how much of the city’s losses on the deal should be covered by its former bond counsel, Roy Koegen, and his former firm, Perkins Coie.
U.S. District Judge Edward Shea told a courtroom full of prospective jurors, drawn from as far away as Yakima, Walla Walla and Ellensburg, that the legal malpractice trial over the mall’s garage could last five weeks. They were shown a list of 185 names of potential witnesses – many current or past city officials or Spokane business leaders – and asked if they knew any of the names.
Laurel Siddoway, an attorney for the city, asked prospective jurors if they would have a problem awarding the city more than $30 million if they determined it was the victim of malpractice. None did.
She also explained that the case started out as a securities fraud case, but that part had been settled, with the city admitting investors had been defrauded. She asked if prospective jurors had any expertise with bonds and investments, and a few said they did.
Karl Oles, attorney for Perkins Coie, asked if any of the prospective jurors had been to the downtown Spokane mall – almost a dozen had – and parked in the garage. Most said they had parked elsewhere, although one prospective juror who had used the garage said he thought the ceilings were a bit low for his sport utility vehicle with a ski rack.
Oles also asked if they had experiences with a deal that went bad and a few recounted tales of business disputes.
Both attorneys asked if prospective jurors had any bad experiences with lawyers, and heard stories ranging from custody disputes to delays for environmental permits. One prospective juror said the day-long exercise in picking a jury was an example of shortcomings in the legal system.
“I could have milked 2,000 cows by now,” the juror said, causing laughter throughout the courtroom.
“People are a little more complicated than cows,” said Shea with a smile. “No less ornery, perhaps, but more complicated.”
That prospective juror was not picked for the panel.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to start this morning.
Also on Thursday, members of the City Council met for more than an hour in a closed-door executive session for a briefing by City Attorney Mike Connelly on discussions with Perkins Coie over a possible settlement of the case.
Council President Dennis Hession said after the meeting, “We’re still negotiating, but we don’t have any kind of deal yet.”