Like A Rock

A controversial city attorney continues to litigate police cases.

Rocky Treppiedi
Rocky Treppiedi

Nearly three months after Mayor David Condon took office, Rocky Treppiedi, a controversial assistant city attorney whom Condon once stated should be fired, is still litigating cases on behalf of the police department.

The mayor defended Treppiedi’s work this week, saying the attorney will not be involved in upcoming mediation between the city and the family of Otto Zehm, who died after a 2006 encounter with Spokane police officers.

“The transition period is what we’re working on right now,” Condon says. He says he also removed Treppiedi as police advisor, a position in which he provided legal advice to the department. “I thought that was a structural way of conducting business so I immediately made that change the first day I was here.”

But during his election campaign last year, Condon laid harsh criticisms on Mayor Mary Verner over Treppiedi’s continued employment. In court filings, federal investigators have accused the attorney of interfering with their investigation into Zehm’s death.

“[Verner] cannot look at everything through a lawyer’s narrow legal perspective. According to the news reports, I believe Treppiedi should be dismissed immediately,” read a statement from Condon’s campaign in early September.

After he was elected, Condon held a press conference where he said, “It would be very difficult for me to maintain [Rocky Treppiedi’s] employment at City Hall knowing what has been made available to me.”

But in an interview last week, Condon denied ever saying he would fire the attorney, stating that he was instead reviewing the approach taken in the city’s litigation and was looking for outside attorneys to take over some of the cases.

“The reports at the time were all about the Zehm case, and Rocky has been dismissed from that case. The course of action for the Zehm case is now substantially different,” Condon added in an email after an interview with The Inlander.

Meanwhile, Treppiedi is still busy defending the city and the police department from a variety of suits, including some filed after Condon took office.

Treppiedi, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is defending the city against Jeff Harvey, a former police detective who in February filed suit against the city and former police chief Anne Kirkpatrick for damages related to his firing last year.

And he’s continued to litigate other police cases, including the case of Logan Frederick, who says the department is liable for letting a police dog bite him in the course of an arrest for alleged domestic violence, and the case of Darlene Karu, who is trying to get police to hand over money seized in a drug bust that she claims belongs to her.

“My understanding was that new cases are not going to him, but he was still litigating existing cases,” says City Council President Ben Stuckart, who was not aware of Treppiedi’s involvement in the Harvey suit. “I know Mayor Condon had said he wasn’t involved, so that surprises me.”

Condon says the city is looking for attorneys to take over the police cases. When asked if he has faith in Treppiedi, the mayor says, “I’ll stand by my previous statements.”

Despite Condon’s intentions as a candidate, Bob Dunn, who is representing Harvey against the city, says Condon may have found his hands tied as mayor.

“The mayor was not in a position to fire anyone but [former city attorney Howard] Delaney, who reported directly to him,” says Dunn. Condon fired Delaney earlier this month and nominated Nancy Isserlis to take over the office. “I wouldn’t have expected the mayor to be involved in the Treppiedi matter.”

The mayor says he expects Isserlis to decide who she wants to employ as city attorney, when she takes office next week. Isserlis says she will decide about Treppiedi then and will also be personally supervising the city’s handling of the ongoing mediation with the Zehm family.

If Treppiedi is fired, he would take with him over 30 years of institutional knowledge in the city attorney’s office.

“Obviously Mr. Treppiedi’s record has been, for lack of a better word, stellar, in that he continually wins on behalf of the city of Spokane,” says Councilman Mike Fagan.

His departure could also change the city’s practice of fighting lawsuits tooth-and-nail.

“Rocky has a reputation for being very tenacious and focused on defending the city and his offices at all costs. But part of being a good lawyer is knowing when it would be most effective to settle a case,” says attorney Breean Beggs, who is suing the city on behalf of Frederick. “If the city wants to pursue a strategy of wanting to litigate everything to the final hour, they will probably be missing some of his skill sets.”

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About The Author

Chris Stein

Chris Stein is a staff writer at The Inlander. He covers social services, downtown Spokane, Eastern Washington and Spokane city hall. His work has been published by the Associated Press, VeloNews and the Santa Barbara Independent. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.