BRIER — Mayor Bob Colinas terminated the contract of long-time city attorney Tom Evans Monday, March 12 and Evans vowed publicly to get to the bottom of why it happened by suing the city.
“I had no idea it was coming,” Evans said in an interview Tuesday, March 13.
Evans, an attorney specializing in maritime law, had been contracted to provide legal services to Brier since December 1979. He also serves as a contracted city attorney for the city of Lake Forest Park, where he grew up.
Evans said he learned of his termination via e-mail from the mayor March 12.
“No one has ever asked me to resign or, that I’m aware, complained about my services,” Evans said.
In a March 9 termination letter obtained by The Enterprise, Colinas accused Evans of violating state law and Rules of Professional Conduct by drafting ordinances that protected him from having his contract terminated.
At issue is the use and alleged abuse of civil service protections that in the 1980s were extended beyond police and fire personnel to include other city employees. Civil service rules give certain employees a grievance process and protections from dismissal, including a hearing and review.
A three-member civil service commission reviews all employment-related issues for those employees covered by civil service rules.
The letter accuses Evans, who as a contracted attorney was not considered an employee, according to Colinas, of drafting civil service ordinances that protected him from being fired for cause — or without a hearing.
“The Rules of Professional Conduct mandate that a client has the right to discharge a lawyer at any time, with or without cause,” Colinas’ letter said. “The provisions of your prior contract with the City unduly restrict this right of the City and require proof of ‘cause’ along with ‘a mutual agreement of the parties’ plus significant advance notice before termination can occur,” according to the letter.
Further, Colinas’ letter said that Evans’ conduct over the years placed his “personal interests and desires” above the city’s needs, “which violates your basic ethical duty owed to the city.
“I have been advised and am aware of numerous instances where your conduct, actions and advice to the City directly contradicted advice given to our City by legal specialists in land use and personnel matters,” Colinas’ letter states.
In an emotional and lengthy public response during the Brier City Council meeting Tuesday, March 13, Evans vowed to pursue legal action against the city. The council later approved a contract for a new city attorney, Rod Kaseguma of the Bellevue law firm Inslee, Best, Doezie &Ryder, P.S.
“I am committed to find out the truth,” he said. “I want to know the truth of the reason I was terminated.”
Colinas, a former council member, said in an interview, “the city has the right to do business with whatever contract attorney or firm they choose to work with.”
Asked why he terminated Evans’ contract now, Colinas said, “the time was right for us to move forward with good legal representation.”
In his public statement, Evans claimed the city held an illegal meeting March 6 in which council members were threatened with fines for disclosing what took place.
In a non-public executive session March 6, Evans said, the city’s insurance company lawyer, Eileen Lawrence, handed out a 14-page memorandum critiquing Evans’ conduct on behalf of the city.
Evans said council members were instructed to return the memo and were threatened with a $500 fine “if they said anything about the meeting.”
But, Evans said, Lawrence was not contracted with the city to provide legal services and, at the time of the executive session, he was still the city attorney.
Following the executive session, the council March 6 voted to do away with the extended civil service protections the city claims illegally protected Evans from dismissal for cause.
Councilman Gary Morgan said he hasn’t “had a problem” with Evans’ work over the years.
“What we’ve done over the years is put many of these employees on contracts, which makes civil service null,” he said.
Evans told the council he plans to get answers through litigation as to why the city could get advice from a non-contracted attorney, whether Lawrence had attorney-client privileges and whether the executive session violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
“And I will find out why this (meeting) was so secret that city council members would be threatened with fines,” Evans said.