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Bainbridge identifies lawyer in charge of Fehlman investigaton

A Seattle lawyer who has worked for many of Washington's top law firms has been hired to look into allegations made by the Bainbridge Island Police Guild against Police Chief Jon Fehlman.

Rebecca Dean, an attorney who specializes in independent investigations on employment and workplace issues, will be paid $240 an hour for her work on the investigation.

The probe was prompted by claims made by the city's police guild in June, after members of the union announced they had taken a vote of "no confidence" in Fehlman on June 11. The guild has blamed Fehlman, who took over as police chief in late 2009, for a lack of leadership and poor morale in the department, as well as the low regard for officers that is prevalent in the community.

Union officials have also alleged that Fehlman has made poor management decisions and has violated police department and city policies, and possibly state and federal laws.

Interim City Manager Morgan Smith announced at the council meeting June 13 that the city was bringing in an outside investigator to look into the guild's allegations.

The investigation began in late June, and at the time, Smith declined to name the outside investigator.

City officials released a letter of engagement for the investigator, which included a statement of services and charges, on Friday in response to a public records request from the Review.

The letter, signed by Dean, sets out the boundaries of the investigation.

Dean said she would investigate "administrative and management processes and [the] use of city resources," but noted that her work would not extend into legal matters.

"Although I am an attorney, I will be conducting a factual investigation. I will not be acting as legal counsel to the city," Dean wrote.

"This may have implications with regard to the attorney-client privilege, particularly if the city later relies upon my investigation in litigation," she added. "In addition, many of the usual protections which attach to an attorney-client relationship (including, but not limited to, protection of client confidences and conflict of interest rules) may not apply to my engagement with the city."

Dean also said that if the investigation eventually leads to a legal case against the city, she would charge the city $240 an hour for any time that she spends on the matter after the investigation is over.

"It is possible that I may later be asked to provide information regarding the investigation to third parties or subpoenaed to testify in a deposition, arbitration or in court and/or to produce my investigation file," Dean wrote.

"If this occurs, all time spent in responding to the request or subpoena, preparing to testify, and testifying is within the scope of the original representation," she said.

Dean is a veteran of many of Seattle's best-known law firms.

A 1988 graduate of the law school at the University of Washington, she was an associate at Perkins Coie from 1988 to 1994, according to her biography on her firm's website.

She worked for Foster, Pepper & Shefelman from 1994 to 1997, rising from an associate to a member of the law firm before joining Bogle & Gates in 1997.

After the demise of Bogle & Gates, Dean became a partner at Seattle's oldest law firm, Preston Gates & Ellis, from 1999 to 2005.

Dean's current practice focuses on workplace investigations.

Last year, Dean was hired to conduct an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Aberdeen Municipal Court Judge Paul Conroy.

Before that, she was also the investigator hired by the Morton School District to investigate claims of inappropriate touching by a middle school history teacher.

According to her website, her investigations — done at the request of employers — have spanned a wide range of allegations.

"My recent assignments include performing factual investigations into sexual harassment complaints; gender, age and race discrimination; violations of corporate ethical standards and policies; retaliation and identity theft," Dean said on her website. "I also assist a defense contractor by managing its responses to calls to the corporate ethics hotline. This includes not only conducting investigations, but guiding local human resources staff and evaluating investigations conducted by others."

Smith previously said the investigation will take four to six weeks to complete.

 

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