SGN exclusive interview: City Attorney candidate Peter Holmes
 

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posted Friday, June 5, 2009 - Volume 37 Issue 23

SGN exclusive interview: City Attorney candidate Peter Holmes
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Peter Holmes has tangled with Tom Carr before.

"'Tangled' is definitely the right word," Holmes says. This year, Holmes is running against incumbent Carr for Seattle City Attorney. Two years ago, when Holmes was Chair of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), overseeing the conduct of Seattle police, the two clashed over OPA reports critical of police conduct.

At issue was legal indemnity for OPA members from potential claims by officers or their union, the Police Guild. "We asked Tom Carr for opinions on the OPA reports," Holmes recalls. "We were concerned that we'd lose the right to indemnity, in fact we might have to indemnify the City."

Carr refused to issue an opinion supporting the OPA, citing the confidentiality agreement OPA members must sign. "The reports did not name a single officer and did not disclose a single piece of confidential information," Holmes says, "but the law department would not give us a 'comfort letter' [indicating that the City Attorney agreed that the OPA reports were within legal bounds]."

"They just weren't open to hearing constructive criticism," he says. "'They' meaning the mayor's office and the City Attorney's office."

Holmes' opinion of Carr has not mellowed over the intervening years. He is also critical of Carr's suit against Seattle Out and Proud (SOAP) on behalf of Seattle Center. "I would not have filed that suit," Holmes says.

"A lawyer in private practice would have looked at that case like 'OK, there's money owed, how do I get the money?'" Holmes says. "The City Attorney has to ask more questions. Here's a citizen organization exercising its First Amendment rights. What sense does it make to sue them? Could we work toward a compromise? Not that we'd let debts to the City go unpaid, but could we reduce it? Could we get them on a [payment] plan?"

Holmes rejects Carr's contention that as City Attorney he was compelled to file suit on behalf of his client. "As if he's an automaton with no independent judgment," he scoffs.

"The City Attorney is first and foremost an officer of the court," Holmes explains. "He is supposed to exercise prosecutorial discretion on the criminal side. He can also exercise judgment on the civil side. You're not locked in to filing [a suit] just because another department asks you to."

Holmes also accuses Carr of a lack of transparency. "Trying to find audits of [Tom Carr's] law department has been very, very difficult," he says.

"For example, Operation Sobering Thought," Holmes continues. "You ask the police what resources they have assigned to that and you get very precise responses. Ask the law department and they can't even tell you the names of the lawyers assigned to the cases."

Operation Sobering Thought was a 2007 sting operation, engineered by Carr, which targeted bars and nightclubs suspected of serving minors.

On the issue of building a new Seattle jail, Holmes says flatly, "It would be a shame and an embarrassment to the city."

"I want the [City Attorney's] office to be in the lead in the effort not to build a new jail," he says. "That will be my first priority, and I want the voters to hold me accountable if I fail."

Holmes believes many of Carr's criminal prosecutions are unnecessary. "Take the homeless sweeps," he says. "Carr was directed by the SDOT to drop 22 cases. They never should have been brought."

In April 2008, Mayor Greg Nickels authorized police raids on homeless encampments, many of them occupying land owned by Seattle's Department of Transportation.

"It's just like the [auto] impounds at the start of Carr's term," Holmes continues. "The notion that we're going to prosecute people for being poor. Stop prosecuting so-called crimes, that are crimes only because we've defined them as such."

"We're disenfranchising minority groups," he insists. "LGBT, ethnic minorities. Prosecutions under Carr cut across all these categories. We're much less of a city when we do that."

Holmes believes alternatives to incarceration can help reduce the demand for additional jail space. He cites two recent studies.

"The King County Bar Association Drug Policy report has not been fully embraced by Tom Carr," Holmes charges. "Carr opposed marijuana de-prioritization [Seattle's Initiative 75, passed in 2003]."

"The Seattle University report on misdemeanor crimes cited inadequate staff support and inadequate funding [for alternatives to incarceration programs]. Especially from the City Attorney's office. They don't even maintain adequate data," Holmes says.

"I would really commit to it," he promises. "It would be the major focus for most misdemeanors under my watch."

"I will take a really progressive approach to this office for the first time," Holmes promises. "I'll work to build consensus, but there are some things they just won't push me back on."



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