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Seattle City Attorney Accused Of Conflict On Hospital Plans

Amy Radil

A community group fighting the expansion of Children's Hospital wants the Seattle city attorney to recuse himself from the case. The group says the city entered into a secret agreement to help Children's expand, and that taints the city attorney's involvement.


The Seattle City Council will hold its third hearing about the expansion of Seattle Children's Hospital this week. The council members must act as judges on this issue, and rule on whether the hospital's new master plan adding 1.5 million square feet is allowed under city code.

The main opponent to the hospital expansion is the Laurelhurst Community Club. Members say the expansion, which would nearly triple the hospital's size, is out of step with the residential neighborhood. Peter Eglick is the club's lawyer. He says a public records request to the city last fall unearthed an agreement between Children's Hospital and Seattle's Department of Planning and Development (DPD). In it, DPD pledges to work with Children's for approval of the expansion plan. Eglick says it's routine for agencies to defend the integrity of their own procedures, but this agreement goes beyond that.

Eglick: "The key point is it's just inappropriate."

The so–called "Common Interest and Joint Defense Agreement" allows Children's and the city to keep many communications private. It was written last October, but made retroactive to last January, long before the city's hearing examiner ruled against the planned expansion. Eglick says the agreement undermines the process so far.

Eglick: "It compromises the regulatory process, it suggests that the hearing examiner was not fully informed and that that process was compromised, and it is corrosive to the integrity of the process."

Eglick says the City Attorney's Office now has an unworkable split. Some attorneys are advising DPD and Children's on their appeal to the City Council, while others are advising the City Council in its determinations. Eglick has called on City Attorney Peter Holmes to recuse his office from the City Council process, and allow the council to hire outside lawyers instead.

Sandy Watson is a land use lawyer with the City Attorney's Office. She's not able to discuss the Children's Hospital proceedings, but she can talk about the reasons the city enters into joint defense agreements in general.

Watson: "A party often wants to share expenses, wants to understand what the other party's position is or why they're taking a particular strategy, or what information they're basing a particular strategy on, particularly if they have a common interest on a particular issue."

Just how much common interest the city has with Children's Hospital is the basis for Eglick's concern. The City Attorney's Office is expected to respond soon to his request for recusal. If it's declined, it could give the Laurelhurst Community Club a basis to appeal the City Council's decision. That appeal would go to King County Superior Court.

Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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