Island County commissioners agree to hire more outside counsel

Island County commissioners on Tuesday hired the Seattle law firm of Short, Cressman & Burgess to provide legal counsel, advice and litigation services. The firm will help the commissioners navigate the unusual litigation surrounding their decision to hire an outside land-use attorney. Prosecutor Greg Banks last month brought a lawsuit against the attorney, Susan Drummond, in Island County Superior Court, claiming that the county’s hiring of her was unconstitutional and a waste of tax dollars.

Island County commissioners on Tuesday hired the Seattle law firm of Short, Cressman & Burgess to provide legal counsel, advice and litigation services.

The firm will help the commissioners navigate the unusual litigation surrounding their decision to hire an outside land-use attorney.

Prosecutor Greg Banks last month brought a lawsuit against the attorney, Susan Drummond, in Island County Superior Court, claiming that the county’s hiring of her was unconstitutional and a waste of tax dollars.

The county had agreed to indemnify Drummond, meaning it would pay for her defense.

The county will pay Short, Cressman & Burgess attorney Scott Missall a maximum of $350 per hour and will pay a maximum total to the firm of $35,000 over the two-year period for which it is hired, the commissioners said.

The commissioners on Aug. 13 “learned from the press that the prosecuting attorney had filed for his own benefit and interest a(n) … action against Drummond … seeking to interfere with … the county’s lawful authority to retain … the Drummond law firm,” it wrote in the four-page resolution it approved yesterday.

The county entered its agreement with Drummond because the prosecutor’s office could not provide the necessary legal strategy and advice, and because of other issues including “conflicts, loyalty, communication … preventing effective assistance of counsel by the prosecuting attorney’s office,” it said in the resolution.

Banks last month appointed a Snohomish County deputy prosecutor to represent Drummond. But the commissioners said they were uncomfortable with Drummond’s being represented by an attorney selected by her legal adversary.

“We clearly acted properly under state law” in hiring outside counsel, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said at yesterday’s weekly meeting of the board.

Banks “is using us as a test case to see whether the state law should stand,” she said.

Banks responded to the news, saying in an email: “Apparently, the Board felt the need to spend $350/hour on a private Seattle law firm, rather than continue to consult with the independent special deputy, who graciously agreed to provide them confidential, independent legal advice at no cost.”

 

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