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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Former U.S. attorney Mike Ormsby appointed city attorney by Spokane Mayor David Condon

May 3, 2017 Updated Wed., May 3, 2017 at 10:50 p.m.

Mike Ormsby, seen in this 2012 file photo, earned confirmation on a 4-3 vote to become the city attorney for Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Mike Ormsby, seen in this 2012 file photo, earned confirmation on a 4-3 vote to become the city attorney for Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The former U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington could soon become the city of Spokane’s top lawyer.

Mike Ormsby, who served as U.S. attorney under President Barack Obama, will take over the city attorney’s office on May 22 if the Spokane City Council confirms the appointment by Mayor David Condon.

“I am excited for the opportunity,” Ormsby said.

If confirmed, he said he plans to take time learning the new position, which would involve a wide range of mainly civil law, including land use, finance, negligence, licenses, utilities, labor relations, employee rights and other personnel matters. The position pays $156,700 a year.

“I think I need to do a lot of listening and learning,” he said.

The position opened nearly a year ago when former city attorney Nancy Isserlis resigned. Condon tried to appoint Laura McAloon, but she withdrew her name from consideration.

Longtime Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo has been interim city attorney.

City Councilwoman Candace Mumm said she met with Ormsby last week and has no objections to his nomination.

However, she said she wants to hear from the public if there are concerns before deciding how she will vote.

“I think he is very qualified,” she said.

Councilman Mike Fagan also sat down with Ormsby and told him straight out that they are not ideologically aligned, but that he doesn’t consider their differences to be an impediment to Ormsby doing the job.

“I think we are getting some quality lawyering here,” Fagan said.

The appointment was announced in a City Hall news release Wednesday.

Ormsby got his start in public life at age 18 when he became the youngest-ever member of the Spokane School Board, serving from 1975 to 1983.

Ormsby served on the school board through college and law school at Gonzaga University and spent one year on the city’s Plan Commission. He is a graduate of North Central High School.

Before becoming U.S. attorney, Ormsby worked at the firm Preston Gates, later to become K&L Gates, which provided legal expertise for the sale of bonds to finance the River Park Square parking garage. The bonds failed when the garage was unable to meet its payments, and the city repurchased them in a controversial bailout.

River Park Square is one of the holdings under the Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.

In March, Ormsby was one of a number of U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign by President Donald Trump so that new president could make his own appointments. He had served in that post since 2010.

Ormsby is the brother of state Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.

Ormsby said he was a Democratic precinct committeeman years ago, but sees his potential role at City Hall as nonpartisan. He said he will avoid policy making and will try to be as open as possible with the public. He also said that he has a lifelong passion for public service.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said he urged the mayor to appoint Ormsby.

Ormsby told Stuckart he would not accept the appointment while U.S. attorney.

After Ormsby was removed by Trump, Stuckart said he and the mayor approached Ormsby a second time, with Ormsby ultimately agreeing to take the appointment.

“He has always been my No. 1 choice,” Stuckart said. “I told Mike and (Condon) that.”

“Spokane is getting a very highly qualified attorney and someone who really is passionate about the city,” Stuckart said in the news release.

Ormsby met with all of the City Council members prior to Wednesday’s announcement.

“Mike brings tremendous experience in public service and private practice that will help the city continue its pursuit of integrated solutions that are making Spokane safer, smarter and healthier,” Condon said in a news release. “He has a reputation for building partnerships and reaching out to underserved populations during his time as U.S. Attorney.”

Ormsby said one of his duties as U.S. attorney involved working with the region’s tribes on law enforcement and intergovernmental relations.

Ormsby is the second former U.S. attorney to serve on Condon’s Cabinet. Jim McDevitt served as interim law enforcement director last year. McDevitt also preceded Ormsby as U.S. attorney.

Ormsby oversaw an excessive force case against former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson, who was convicted in 2011 of two counts in the death of Otto Zehm..

He also supervised the conviction of Kevin Harpham for the attempted backpack bombing in 2011 of Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. Harpham received 32 years in prison.

Ormsby’s office prosecuted two major drug cases that resulted in the arrest and conviction of 55 members of a large oxycontin smuggling ring, as well as another drug ring involving 39 convictions, he said.

His office prosecuted the so-called Kettle Falls Five following their 2012 arrest for growing marijuana on rural property near Kettle Falls. Four of the five were convicted.

In other cases, Ormsby supervised the collection of more than $150 million from contractors who overbilled for work at Hanford, he said.

The conviction of swindler Greg Jeffreys, along with a $9.3 million restitution order, came under Ormsby’s watch in 2014.

Ormsby spent 29 years in private practice prior to becoming U.S. attorney. He has served on numerous community and civic organizations, including the Spokane Public Schools Board. He was also a trustee for Eastern Washington University for nearly 17 years, the news release said.

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