Judge rules city of Black Diamond can hire lawyer

The Open Public Meeting Act lawsuit against the city of Black Diamond has started moving forward with a ruling from King County Superior Court Judge Janet Helson on Friday, Feb. 3 granting a motion to allow the city to hire Shannon Ragonesi of the Seattle-based Keating, Bucklin & McCormack firm for legal services.

Black Diamond City Council meetings continue to be a spectator sport, with the audience often making comments to the council or, in this case, standing to show opposition to the majority council. Photo by Ray Still.

Editor’s note: The original story was published Feb. 9, 2017. The online edition has been updated to more accurately reflect CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC with the developer Oakpointe.

The Open Public Meeting Act lawsuit against the city of Black Diamond has started moving forward with a ruling from King County Superior Court Judge Janet Helson on Friday, Feb. 3 granting a motion to allow the city to hire Shannon Ragonesi of the Seattle-based Keating, Bucklin & McCormack firm for legal services.

After CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC (managed by the developer Oakpointe) filed the lawsuit in the King County Superior Court last December, many questions were raised as to who will be coordinating the defense for the city and the three council members named in the suit.

Mayor Carol Benson has argued for the past two months that the city will not pay for the defense of council members Pat Pepper, Erika Morgan or Brian Weber, and that the city’s defense will be handled differently than the defense for the council members.

Pepper, Morgan and Weber have argued their defense and the city’s defense should be one and the same, and it should be paid for by the city.

While this debate went on, Benson contracted with Ragonesi to answer the Black Diamond Partner’s lawsuit for the city.

Pepper, Morgan and Weber have contracted with Jeff Taraday from the Lighthouse Law Group, also based out of Seattle, to answer the suit.

On Jan. 25, Ragonesi filed a motion asking the court to officially establish herself as the legal representative for the city of Black Diamond.

In a response filed Jan. 31, Taraday argued that Benson “blatantly exceeded her authority” by contracting with Ragonesi, and requested the court rule only the City Council has the authority to contract for legal services “generally, and specifically, to defend the city in this matter.”

In her response, filed Feb. 1, Ragonesi argued Pepper, Morgan and Weber must be “conflicted out of any decision regarding representation” for Black Diamond; that Benson has the authority to contract legal counsel to defend the city; and that Ragonesi may proceed as the city’s counsel.

Helson sided with the city in the Friday ruling confirming Ragonesi as Black Diamond’s legal representative.

Court Order Confirming Legal Counsel for the City by Ray Still on Scribd

“It is further ordered that (1) the City, by and through Mayor Benson, may continue to contract for Ms. Ragonesi’s legal services in this matter, either under the powers granted to her under state law and City Code, or otherwise as a necessary power to enable her to fulfill her obligation to see that all City laws and ordinances are faithfully kept and enforced under these unique circumstances, and (2) that the Mayor can direct and control the City’s defense, including settlement authority, and not be subject to interference or obstruction by the Individual Defendants.”

Ragonesi wrote in a email Monday, stating the ruling confirmed Benson has the authority to hire a legal representative for Black Diamond for lawsuits, and the three council members cannot dismiss Benson’s choice of representation, vote to not pay for the representation or vote to have the city settle the case.

Whether or not Pepper, Morgan or Weber are responsible for paying for their defense, or if the city is responsible for paying for their defense, has not been ruled on by the court.

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