From a Whisper to a Scream

By Erica C. Barnett July 13, 2009

In what challenger Pete Holmes is calling an escalating "whisper campaign," supporters of City Attorney Tom Carr—particularly Carr's campaign manager, Cindi Laws—are continuing to insist that Holmes is not qualified to serve as city attorney. The city charter requires candidates for city attorney to have been "in the practice of his or her profession" in Seattle for the four years preceding the election.

Carr's supporters point to Holmes's lawyer profile at the Washington State Bar Association, which says that Holmes's bar status is "active" but also says, under "areas of practice," that Holmes is "not actively practicing law." In response, Holmes notes that he served as the "attorney" member of the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board, which oversees police-misconduct investigations, for seven years. And he points out that he provided the information about his "area of practice" himself to clarify that he was no longer taking private clients.

So much for a whisper campaign: Twice in the last several days, Carr went on the record today saying that he doesn't believe Holmes is qualified to serve as city attorney. First, the two candidates got into it over this issue in person last Friday, when Carr directly challenged Holmes to prove that he had been actively practicing law. "You were a member of a committee! You were not actively engaged in practice," Carr said. Holmes replied: "Tom, everything in that sentence was wrong." Carr fired back: "I believe you're not qualified. You gave up practicing law in 2001. You ask me, that's my view."

Today, Carr reiterated that view. "The charter provision says that you have to be both active [with the bar] and engaged in the practice of law in Seattle," Carr said this morning. "He has not been practicing law—taking on clients, giving advice, doing the things that lawyers do."

Holmes counters that, as a member of the OPA Review Board, he has been practicing law—even if he stopped taking on private clients when he joined the board. "At some point after I joined the review board I was getting calls from private clients wanting counsel while I was on the review board, and so I decided to put that in there," he says. "Had I known that I was going to be running for city attorney and that there would be snarky whisper campaign against me, I would have changed it."

In our interview last week, Carr said he did not plan to file a suit challenging Holmes' status as an active attorney if Holmes wins. To Holmes, that's confirmation that Carr's claims are baseless. "If they wanted to just straight-up litigate, that would be one thing, but of course a legal debate is not as sexy as saying I'm unqualified to practice law. They know it's far more effective as a whisper campaign."
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