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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Condon’s pick for city attorney drops out; former attorney blasts Straub report

Mayor David Condon’s pick to head the embattled city attorney’s office withdrew her name from consideration Wednesday and said the reason is that City Council President Ben Stuckart is “unreasonable.”

“I felt like he was trying to bully me,” said Laura McAloon, who had been scheduled for a confirmation vote before the City Council on Monday. “I will not be bullied.”

Stuckart said he was “very honest and direct” and told McAloon she would not have the support of a majority of the council needed for her confirmation.

“She started accusing me of things,” Stuckart said. “I said no amount of her accusing me of things was going to change my mind on the confirmation vote.”

In another development, Nancy Isserlis, the woman McAloon would have succeeded as city attorney, demanded an apology from the author of a report finding the city attorney’s office intentionally withheld potentially damaging public records until after Condon’s re-election.

“We herewith demand that you withdraw your entire report, and that you provide a written public apology to the men and women of the (city attorney’s office) in Spokane, particularly Ms. Nancy Isserlis, Ms. Erin Jacobson and Mr. Pat Dalton,” wrote John Spencer Stewart, a Portland attorney representing Isserlis, in a letter dated Monday and provided to The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday.

Stewart slams Kris Cappel’s report as “very cavalier” and says she acted as “judge, jury and executioner” in her findings implicating the city attorney’s office. The letter demanded the apology by the end of the day Wednesday but does not state what, if any, action would follow if an apology isn’t issued. Stewart did not immediately respond to a question about potential legal action.

In the letter, Stewart defends the delayed release of emails, texts and handwritten notes that were forwarded to the city attorney’s office for review containing claims made by former police spokeswoman Monique Cotton against former police Chief Frank Straub. The letter quotes from interviews Cappel conducted with city employees, stating it was standard practice for the attorney’s office to review records before releasing them to the city clerk to disseminate, and the volume of the records requested by The Spokesman-Review in August 2015 was responsible for the delay.

“Both Ms. Cotton and Mr. Straub had lawyers who had been actively corresponding with the city attorney’s office,” Stewart wrote. “It was considerations such as that, together with the fact that there were more than 25,000 documents to be reviewed by the city attorney’s office that led to the extended period of time to complete that review.”

In a statement released last week, Cappel’s firm, the Seabold Group, said it would not back down from the findings naming Isserlis, City Administrator Theresa Sanders and Dalton as deliberately delaying the release of records related to complaints of sexual harassment against Straub until after Condon’s re-election.

“Seabold Group would make the same findings today regardless of any criticisms that have been lodged by those who may disagree,” the statement read.

Cappel did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the letter from Isserlis’ attorney. Sanders and Dalton both issued statements in the hours after the report was released earlier this month denying the findings. The letter from Stewart also states Isserlis “denies all allegations” in the report.

The release of the report prompted concern by the City Council that McAloon, in her role as an appointee to a panel overseeing the investigation, had unfairly influenced its findings. Cappel provided elected officials a report naming Condon and his spokesman, Brian Coddington, in the conclusion that records were intentionally withheld. She was then contacted by McAloon, Rick Romero and City Councilman Breean Beggs before deciding to remove the names in a subsequent version of the report, according to a letter Cappel provided the city.

Stuckart and City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said it appeared from those contacts that McAloon had influenced the report, calling into question her fitness as city attorney. Stewart, in his letter, also says the contact with members of the oversight team led to “a manipulation of the conclusions.”

McAloon and Cappel denied that the conversation led to the removal of Condon’s and Coddington’s names.

On Wednesday, Stratton said McAloon’s withdrawal from consideration for the job was a “wise” decision.

“I think walking into this firestorm was not in her best interest,” Stratton said, adding that she respects McAloon as an attorney.

City Councilman Mike Fagan said he was surprised by the decision.

“I’m disappointed. I would have loved to have seen her as the new city attorney,” Fagan said. “I think she would have been a great fit to keep all eight electeds in line down at City Hall.”

Condon, in a statement, also expressed dismay at the news.

“I am disappointed that a highly qualified professional feels so discouraged about serving our community,” the mayor wrote in a prepared statement.

McAloon said she would continue to work with the city to fulfill contractual obligations, including representing them in a legal fight with Spokane County and the state Attorney General’s Office over a street levy issue.

“I absolutely want to continue doing that work. They’re phenomenal people at the city,” McAloon said.

Stuckart said Mike Piccolo has taken on the role of acting city attorney, and that the office was in good shape under his guidance.

“Right now, Mike Piccolo is the acting city attorney and he’s doing a great job,” Stuckart said.

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