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Council to decide if City of Seattle will pay legal costs in Sawant recall fight — UPDATE: Approved

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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Ryan Packer
Ryan Packer
2 months ago

The Mayor’s outside counsel in a recall matter of course doesn’t need city council approval.

Kevin Schofield
2 months ago
Reply to  Ryan Packer

The Mayor is covering her own legal expenses to fight the recal petition against her, according to her office.

John Whittier Treat
John Whittier Treat
2 months ago

It’s not enough we paid Murray’s legal expenses? Now we’re being asked to pay Sawant’s?

Cd resident
Cd resident
2 months ago

The people of Seattle have already spent over 300,000 defending sawant on defamation suits because of her lack of impulse control.
Why stop now?
She uses campaign funds to pay her boyfriends salary and travel, dollars to gentrified doughnuts the good citizens of Seattle also pay her mortgage, likely billed as an office for socialist alternative.
She is making money off her public office more than representing the people of the district, sound familiar?
That’s right, your beloved woman of the people is using the same tactics and enjoying the same type of monetary gains as our Cheeto in chief.

jes
jes
2 months ago

Does the city pay for the Mayor’s counsel in a recall effort? Is that normally done?

Adam
Adam
2 months ago
Reply to  jes

They mayor could have requested the council to pay for it, but she didn’t.

Elizabeth Sato
Elizabeth Sato
2 months ago

Pay Sawant’s legal bills? No way. She knew exactly what she was doing. She can pay for the consequences of her own actions.

Paul
Paul
2 months ago
Reply to  Elizabeth Sato

We’re not really expecting socialists to pay for the consequences of their actions are we?
That’s what tax payers are for.

Whichever
Whichever
2 months ago

Hasn’t she cost the City enough?

Jerry
Jerry
2 months ago

I imagine the council will vote to approve to cover Sawant’s legal bills. They would want the same thing afforded to them if/when they need it.

Ben
Ben
2 months ago

NO WAY….Not fair….She knows what she was doing and has to own up to it.

CD_Dave
CD_Dave
2 months ago

She’s as accountable as the police department she’s working to defund is. They both expect the taxpayer to pay extra to protect them from their f-ups.

Guess if the recall is successful, I’ll call her defense money a “welcomed loss.”

Ugh. Go away Sawain’t (my representative)

RWK
RWK
2 months ago

The City Council members are protecting their own, and also protecting themselves should they also be the the subject of a recall effort.

Bill
Bill
1 month ago

I would like to see Sawant get recalled. Her legal bills should be footed by the city UNTIL the appeals court affirms the four charges. After that she has been afforded an opportunity to show herself innocent and been found guilty both in Superior Court and on Appeal. After that all expenses should be on her. I say this because otherwise any group without justification could come along and try to drain elected officials of personal funds to drive them away. It opens the door for corporations to attack elected officials by using millions of dollars to defend pointless recalls. By standing by Sawant until she is found on appeal to be guilty the council is doing the right thing. Then she should be liable to re-pay the city and continue her defense at her own expense. This would be incentive to follow the law for elected officials. Just my two cents worth.