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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council approves funds for lawyers in Straub case

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart has backed down – for now – from his threat to stop paying a law firm defending the city against a lawsuit from its fired police chief.

Last month, Stuckart said he would vote against the contract for the law firm handling the city’s defense if Mayor David Condon did not agree to the City Council’s request to hire a different lawyer to assist an investigation into Straub’s termination.

Condon refused the request last week, but Stuckart and the rest of the council agreed to a compromise on Monday, allowing the law firm to work through July 15.

Stuckart, called out last week by Condon for “politicizing” the investigation into City Hall’s handling of Straub’s ouster, asked for a meeting with Condon and the lawyers ahead of a federal court hearing scheduled for June 15.

“I support, and everybody on the council up here supports the city defending itself in every lawsuit,” Stuckart said, reading from a written statement. “I also support being transparent with the public.”

The city hired investigator Kris Cappel to determine what may have gone wrong in the way the city handled allegations of sexual harassment and poor leadership against Straub.

The City Council voted last month to hire an additional attorney, Mike Harrington, to assist Cappel in her review of documents. The plan, devised by Councilman Breean Beggs, was intended to prevent the release of some records to the public, but allow Cappel to review them under attorney-client privilege with Harrington.

Condon shot down that proposal in a strongly worded letter to the council last week, accusing Stuckart of “placing his political agenda above the public interest.” Condon said release of the records to Cappel could open the city to additional legal liability.

Stuckart said Monday that Condon misunderstood the council’s proposal and “threw public bombs.” He requested a closed-door meeting June 13 to discuss the release of records and Etter, McMahon, Lamberson, Van Wert, & Oreskovich’s further work on the case.

“After this meeting, and after this hearing, we can decide if the city should hire a different lawyer,” Stuckart said.

The vote authorizes the firm to continue representing the city through July 15, up to a cost of $150,000.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice is scheduled next week to hear arguments to dismiss Straub’s case.

Beggs said the July 15 window gives officials time to resolve differences.

“We haven’t both gotten on the same page yet,” Beggs said.

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