Remember when that federal judge had 120 trees cut down in a Seattle park to improve his view? And remember how the judge, Jerome Farris...
Remember when that federal judge had 120 trees cut down in a Seattle park to improve his view?
And remember how the judge, Jerome Farris, apologized and pledged to “make the city whole” after his gardener cut nearly an acre of Colman Park trees down to the stumps? “He has stepped up to his responsibility as a good citizen of our community,” Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr said when Farris agreed to pay $500,000 to restore the Mount Baker neighborhood park.
You’d think a judge, of all people, would honor such a public promise, not to mention the legal settlement he signed.
This is no typical judge. Nearly three years later, Farris has paid less than half the $500,000 bill. The final payment was due 8 ½ months ago.
To try to get Farris to pay, the city has placed a lien on his $2.4 million, 8,000-square-foot house — the one with views of Lake Washington, thanks to the 2002 logging of the park.
“We’re not at the point yet where we’re going to take any other action against him,” said Dewey Potter of the Seattle Parks Department. “But he still owes us $300,000, and we do expect to be paid.”
It turns out when Farris said he would pay, he didn’t mean that the money would actually come from his own pocket. Since before he signed the settlement, the senior judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been trying to get the entire $500,000 paid by his homeowner’s insurance.
Not surprisingly, the insurer refused, saying it isn’t liable for intentional and illegal logging on public land.
So Farris sued. In his lawsuit, he says none of it was his fault. He had the “mistaken but reasonable belief” that he had the city’s OK to trim trees. He says he told his Vietnamese gardener only to trim the trees, and a language mixup led the gardener to turn part of the park into a “disaster zone.”
The gardener, Duc Huynh, plans to testify at trial Dec. 6 that Farris told him to cut down the trees. After he felled about 50, Huynh says, Farris’ directive was clear: “Cut more.”
One of Farris’ lawyers, Michael Wrenn, said he didn’t know why Farris stopped paying the city. In court papers, Farris’ lawyers contend he’s under “tremendous financial pressure,” though county records suggest he has loads of equity in the house (he no longer lives there).
Most galling is that Farris is asking not only that the insurer pay what’s still owed, but also that it reimburse the $200,000 Farris paid in 2003 — plus 12 percent interest, per year. If he gets all this, he’ll come out money ahead.
Where’s the punishment in a fine if you don’t have to pay it? Farris splits hairs there, too, arguing that the city technically never fined him but only wanted him to repair the park.
A jury will decide whether the judge can foist this mess on his insurance company. Who is that company? It’s Farmers, the same company I bashed as unprincipled here all last week.
I never thought I’d feel sorry for Farmers Insurance. In this case, where they’re up against someone every bit as shameless as they are, I kind of do.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.