Legal Ethics

Seattle Battles Its Own Attorney in Dispute Over US Supreme Court Appeal in Excessive-Force Case


A Washington state lawyer hired by the city of Seattle to defend three police officers accused of using excessive force by repeatedly using a stun gun on a pregnant woman after a traffic stop is running amok, as city officials see the situation.

After an en banc federal appeals court ruling in October that found the officers couldn’t be sued in federal court, but might legitimately be pursued in a state-court assault and battery case, the city tried to conclude attorney Ted Buck’s representation of its officers, the Seattle Times reports.

However, Buck says he has a duty to his clients, the officers, to seek a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would preclude them from being sued in state court, the newspaper recounts. Both Buck and the city say they have consulted with legal ethics experts who agree with their respective positions.

The city is concerned that an adverse ruling by the nation’s top court could be detrimental to its stun gun policy. Buck says the city is no longer at risk in any U.S. Supreme Court ruling, because it was dismissed from the federal civil rights case.

“You seem to view the City of Seattle as merely the insurer of your client officers, but that is a convenient analysis that does not fit the facts,” said a letter to Buck earlier this week from City Attorney Pete Holmes, who accused the private practitioner of acting unethically.

Buck, who has filed a certiorari petition with the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the October ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says he and his law firm, Stafford Frey Cooper, are ethically required to continue with the case.

The city says it won’t pay him to do so, the newspaper notes. Buck says that issue will be revisited later.

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