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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis resigns

Nancy Isserlis in 2012. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

City Attorney Nancy Isserlis has submitted her resignation as officials continue to deal with the fallout over the city’s handling of former Police Chief Frank Straub’s firing.

In a letter to Spokane Mayor David Condon dated Saturday, Isserlis wrote that she will resign effective July 1. In a news release, Condon called Isserlis a “tremendous asset” and said her resignation would be a loss for the city.

Isserlis did not mention the Straub controversy in her brief resignation letter, which was received by the mayor’s office on Monday.

City spokesman Brian Coddington said Isserlis told the mayor she was “ready to move on,” but did not give a specific reason for her departure or mention Straub’s ouster.

“Under her leadership, the city worked to bring closure to Otto Zehm’s family, dramatically reduce the list of cases in litigation and successfully negotiate numerous labor contracts,” Condon said a statement. “The city is losing a tremendous asset, but I respect her decision.”

Isserlis took on high-profile and sometimes complicated cases since her appointment to the job in 2012.

Spokane filed suit in federal court in 2013 against Fannie Mae and FreddieMac, alleging that the corporations improperly claimed they were exempt from paying the state’s real estate excise tax. In 2015, Spokane sued international agrochemical giant Monsanto, alleging that the company is at fault for Spokane River pollution because it continued producing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, well after it knew it was dangerous. Under her leadership, the city formally opposed a request from Comcast to be released from federal rules capping the price of basic cable service in Spokane.

Soon after her appointment, Isserlis fired Rocky Treppiedi, the controversial assistant city attorney who led the city’s defense against a lawsuit from the family of Otto Zehm, who died in a police confrontation in 2006. The city also soon settled the Zehm lawsuit.

Also early in her tenure, she worked to reorganize the handling of risk management to avoid conflicts of interest after concerns were raised that city risk managers were interferring with police investigations.

Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs, who worked on behalf of the Zehm’s family in negotiating a settlement with the city prior to his appointment to the council, praised isserlis for changing the paradigm at City Hall by encouraging resolutions before trial, which saved the city money.

“You had the city acting like more of a private entity,” Beggs said, adding that she reduced the number of staff over her tenure, also saving money. “You spend the money and you get it resolved.”

Isserlis is named as a defendant in the lawsuit Straub filed against the city. She, along with City Administrator Theresa Sanders, delivered two letters to Straub the day he was fired alleging misconduct and explosive behavior. Straub has cited that meeting as evidence his firing was engineered, according to court documents filed by his attorney, Mary Schultz.

Isserlis is listed as a potential witness in the ongoing City Hall investigation of Straub’s firing. Coddington said Monday that Isserlis has decided not to answer questions for investigator Kris Cappel.

Condon previously said it’s “very important” she cooperate, but has not invoked his power as mayor to compel city employees to testify. Coddington said Condon has no plans to compel testimony from Isserlis or any other city employee.

Once Isserlis leaves the city, Condon loses the legal ability to compel her testimony.

She submitted her resignation just over a month after Assistant City Attorney Erin Jacobson stepped down. Jacobson was also was involved in the city’s handling of allegations made against Straub.

Condon, a Republican, appointed Isserlis early in his first term following the firing of former City Attorney Howard Delaney. Isserlis, a Democrat, was working as a bankruptcy attorney at the time. She also had served on Condon’s transition team and as chairwoman of the city’s ethics commission.

Isserlis did not return a call seeking comment.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said isserlis had done “a good job” reducing the active case load against the city during her tenure. He said the number of open lawsuits against the city had fallen from 70 to fewer than 14 while isserlis was in office.

“It’s unfortunate she got caught up in the Frank Straub situation,” Stuckart said.

Staff writer Kip Hill contributed to this report.