UPDATE 9/15/20 3:10 PM: The council has voted to approve the expenditure to be supervised by the City Attorney’s office:
Pursuant to RCW 4.96.041, the necessary expenses of defending Councilmember Kshama Sawant in any and all judicial hearings to determine the sufficiency of a recall charge shall be paid by The City of Seattle, including all costs associated with an appeal of the decision rendered by the Superior Court concerning the sufficiency of the recall charge. The representation of Councilmember Sawant shall be supervised by the Seattle City Attorney.
ORIGINAL REPORT: The Seattle City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday afternoon over whether the city should pay the legal bills of District 3 representative Kshama Sawant as she fights the recall effort being organized against her by a group of Capitol Hill and Central District-area residents and business owners.
The proposed ordinance would cover “the legal representation of Councilmember Kshama Sawant in judicial proceedings concerning a recall charge; paying expenses necessary to defend Councilmember Sawant in those proceedings,” according to the text of the bill posted as part of the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
Sawant, the council’s longest serving member in the middle of her third term serving District 3 including Capitol Hill and the Central District, faces a recall campaign launched over her contribution to the “criminal environment around the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest” and because her “actions and policy proposals are not supported by a majority of District 3 residents.” The campaign has already amassed thousands of contributions — many anonymous, $25 and under donations.
Wednesday, a King County Superior Court judge will decide if the recall petition meets basic legal requirements. If it does, the recall effort would then have until early 2021 to gather just over 10,000 D3 signatures — “25% of the total number of votes cast (42,956) in the November 5, 2019 general election for City of Seattle Council Position #3″ — to throw the choice into the hands of district voters.
Sawant is currently represented by the Barnard Iglitzin and Lavitt law firm in her filings submitted thus far in the recall process. Filings for petition organizers including campaign head Ernie Lou have included the Davis Wright Tremaine firm.
It’s mostly standard practice for municipalities to cover the legal costs of recall efforts targeting officials and other legal proceedings stemming from the job of public service. Notable exceptions in recent situations where the costs were not paid by a city have mostly involved situations related to sexual harassment.
In 2011, the proposed Sawant ordinance notes, legal costs for councilmember Richard Conlin’s successful fight against a recall were picked up by the city after the council approved the expenditure. According to the new ordinance proposals, Sawant’s office has requested the city “pay the necessary expenses of defending her in legal proceedings to determine the sufficiency of the charges.”
Opponents are speaking out against the ordinance citing Sawant’s often maverick, go-it-alone approach.
“She unlocked City Hall after hours and let people into the City Hall during COVID19 thereby creating unnecessary cost to the City and health risks to its employees,” one letter sent in opposition from a Capitol Hill real estate developer and manager reads. “She aggravated peaceful protestors from a Black Lives Matters protest in front of the East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department to the point that other protestors arrived to create CHOP/CHAZ and damage and destruction to City property and private property to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention to loss of lives of private citizens who were shot and killed. She led and attended a protest in front of the Mayors personal residence even though our Mayor’s residential location was sealed as our Mayor previously served as a Prosecuting Attorney and inherent risks with her (previous) job allowed her residential location to be sealed (please remember the Honorable Thomas Wales who was murdered at his personal residence).”
“Sawant already has an ‘army’ of supporters,” the letter reads. “These same supporters can fund her defense to the Court proceedings in King County Court on Wednesday the 16th at 9:00am.”
Sawant’s legal costs have been covered by the city before. In 2017, the city picked up the bill for Sawant’s defense in a defamation suit.
Meanwhile, adding the cost to the city’s COVID-challenged financial situation represents another example of taxpayers possibly footing the bill over political frustrations of the city’s right over the actions of its left including the federal class action lawsuit filed by Capitol HIll real estate developers, property owners, and small businesses over Mayor Jenny Durkan’s too-lenient treatment of CHOP.
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