Carr V. Holmes: The Highlights

By Erica C. Barnett July 13, 2009

PubliCola's endorsements are coming out in a couple of weeks, but we couldn't miss an opportunity to tell our readers a little about our heated interview last Friday with City Attorney Tom Carr and his nemesis/challenger Peter Holmes. (Unfortunately, our camera crew took the day off, so this is from the transcript).

Possibly the most interesting revelation that came out of our conversation is that despite criticism of Carr's prosecution of low-level pot crimes, he's received the endorsement of state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45), the former head of the King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project and a leading local proponent of drug policy reform. I've got a call in to Goodman to find out why he's supporting Carr. Both Carr and Holmes, incidentally, said they had last smoked pot "some time in the '80s."

The interview took place in the PubliCola offices; Carr and Holmes sat uncomfortably on a long couch, scootching as far away from one another as humanly possible. I'll let you read what you will into their body language:

[caption id="attachment_9215" align="alignnone" width="550" caption="Holmes and Carr"]Holmes and Carr[/caption]

A few highlights from the fireworks-filled interview.

On Carr's two terms as city attorney:

Holmes: I think Tom's not doing enough. Community court is a great idea but... it's lacking in sufficient resources. Tom himself will say that he operated on a shoestring. [The court was launched with the help of a $54,000 grant]. If that's going to be the centerpiece of your alternatives to incarceration, you better support it. ... To say it's the effectiveness of alternatives to incarceration that arrests are down doesn't answer the question of, are they down because of your charging decisions?

The anecdotal evidence that I'm gathering is that [Carr's] office recommended a nine-month jail sentence to a mentally ill defendant for like stealing a can of tuna. Only recently has Tom dropped the requirement that they actually plead guilty to a crime to go to community court. You can't claim that you are actively seeking alternatives to incarceration when you're making decisions like Operation Sobering Thought, like Nickelsville.

On pot prosecutions post-Initiative 75, which made marijuana arrests the city's lowest law enforcement priority:

Carr: If you look at the Initiative 75 report, we averaged about 100 to 200 [pot prosecutions] a year [after I-75 passed]. Before my time, it was more like 500 or 600. If you think of a city of this size, that is very low. And we're not pursuing them—they're primarily things like, a woman who tried to come in to the courthouse with pot in her pocket.

Holmes: The fact that we're continuing to prosecute them is the problem. You have prosecutorial discretion. Just because an arrest is presented doesn't mean you have to charge them. I supported the decriminalization bill in Olympia this year [which would have decriminalized marijuana]. Did you?

Carr: I did not take a position on that bill. ... I do believe that decriminalization of all drugs is a bad idea. I think we've got a lot of tools to deal with drugs and one of them is the criminal justice system.

It's really easy for a challenger to say, 'I'm not going to prosecute crime." But state law says there's no discretion when it comes to drugs.

On the ongoing grudge match between Carr and Holmes over Holmes's work on the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board (in brief, the issue was whether Carr's office would protect the police-oversight panel from legal challenges by the police union if the union believed the panel’s reports breached an agreement about how much detail the review board could give the public about police misconduct cases; as a consequence, the board refused to release its report for several years):

Carr: It was almost impossible to work with Pete. Pete had signed a confidentiality agreement that was part of the collective bargaining agreement [with the police union]. He asked us whether his report violated that agreement, we gave him advice, and he decided our advice meant he couldn't release it. ... I tried to give him some safe harbor. We went back and forth for months. I would think we'd have the language settled and I'd send him a draft and he would come back with new revisions. ... The people who've worked with Pete know what it's like to work with him, and they are not supporting him. [Carr is referring to two former OPARB auditors, Kate Pflaumer and Terry Carroll who both endorsed Carr after working with Holmes for several years.] It was basically, 'It's got to be my way,' and the city attorney can't work that way.

Holmes: I wish Tom could avoid his tendency of going into hyperbole. We had a written memo from the city attorney's office that said that we were liable [if the police union sued]. The city attorney's office said [the OPARB report] violated the confidentiality agreement. ... If he wants to talk about my working style or say it's my way or no way, that's just manifestly unfair. ... When we appeared on that video [a heated Seattle Channel debate, which you can watch here, in which Carr accused Holmes of lying and not doing his job at OPARB] and for the first time [Carr] sprung all of his views about how we were trying to change the outcome of cases ... the notion that you give legal advice by going to the press instead of your clients—that's just ignoring your basic ethical responsibilities.

Carr: Are you accusing me of ignoring my ethical responsibilities now? As I recall, you were the one who first said that I was suppressing your report, and you said that repeatedly.

On Operation Sobering Thought, the controversial nightclub sting that resulted in 17 arrests and not a single conviction:

Carr: I think it was a success. Before Operation Sobering Thought—which is a terrible name, by the way, and I didn't name it—we had a problem with large numbers of police being called out to deal with bar problems and large crowds at closing. The police were concerned about the level of drunkenness and violence that they were dealing with. ... That has improved. [Since then], we've reached out to the the clubs, we've had monthly safety meetings with the clubs, we have an officer assigned to go and visit the clubs almost nightly to check in and become more cooperative. ... I agree that that's a much more successful strategy. I would much rather work with the clubs than fight with them.

Holmes: My understanding was that you wouldn't talk to the clubs.

Carr: We have changed our approach. There was a mutual mistrust and I think we've gotten over that.
Filed under
Show Comments