Delvonn Heckard says he isn’t backing down and plans to refile the lawsuit next year. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who has denied the allegations all along, said the lawsuit’s withdrawal is proof he’d been the victim of a “political takedown.”
Just over two months after filing a lawsuit that crushed Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s re-election bid, a Kent man accusing Murray of sexually abusing him three decades ago withdrew the case, saying he plans to refile early next year.
Murray pounced on the stunning development as proof he’d been the victim of a “political takedown” and wouldn’t rule out a write-in campaign to get back in the race.
A lawyer for Delvonn Heckard filed paperwork in King County Superior Court to drop the civil lawsuit — which last month prompted Murray to end his campaign for a second term — under a procedural rule that allows plaintiffs to refile under certain conditions.
Heckard, 46, who lives at a recovery center in Kent, said Tuesday he stands behind his claims that Murray repeatedly paid him for sex when he was a drug-addicted teenager. He insisted he isn’t backing down.
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“I just want people to know that it’s not over, and it’s not going away,” Heckard said. “It’s just a delay.”
The filing by Heckard’s attorney, Lincoln Beauregard, says Heckard wants to complete drug rehabilitation and believes his case would have a better chance at success once Murray is out of office. Murray, 62, plans to serve out his term through the end of the year.
Hours after the procedural move was made public Wednesday, Murray told reporters at a City Hall news conference, “I believe the withdrawal of this lawsuit vindicates me.”
Flanked by his Cabinet members, his husband, Michael Shiosaki, and other relatives, the mayor described the lawsuit as a painful experience and without naming Beauregard, he blamed the lawyer for seemingly exploiting “vulnerable people” to exercise his own political agenda.
“This political effort to end my public career may have looked like it succeeded, but today I can say to those who were behind this, you were not successful,” Murray said. “I will continue to be the mayor of this city. I will continue to lead the progressive agenda of equity and prosperity and social justice that we’ve made the heart of it.”
Murray has denied Heckard’s allegations all along, saying the lawsuit and similar accusations by three others were politically motivated and meant to drive him from office. Murray, who was a strong favorite to win re-election, announced May 9 he was ending his run. The other three men have not sued.
The maneuver to drop, then potentially refile the lawsuit, could mean a new judge would get the case.
King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea Galván has taken a hard line against Beauregard’s tactics, including sanctioning him for violating ethical standards. She has said some of Beauregard’s court filings appeared designed “for the sole purpose and intent of generating publicity.”
The prospect of a new judge, Beauregard said, is “a nice benefit of refiling,” but he added, “my public comment on that would be no comment.”
Malaika Eaton, one of Murray’s attorneys, described Heckard’s reasons for withdrawing the case as “excuses,” and questioned the timing.
Murray’s attorneys had demanded Heckard answer several written questions, known as “interrogatories,” under oath by Thursday, including providing detailed descriptions of Murray’s apartment in the 1980s. Heckard claimed in his suit that Murray paid him for sex in the apartment.
Beauregard responded that any paperwork due this week was inconsequential, adding Murray’s lawyers “are welcome to come and depose Delvonn tomorrow if they would like even though the case has been dismissed.”
During his remarks Wednesday, Murray expressed frustration that voters didn’t get the chance to decide whether he should be re-elected.
“That a lawyer, a hungry publicity lawyer with special connections with certain members of the press, should not be driving … who the next mayor of the city of Seattle is, that the voters of this city should have had that opportunity,” he said.
Heckard said Murray is responsible for his own political demise.
“Well, it’s his actions, not mine, that messed up his career,” Heckard said. “Whatever people feel about it, it is what it is.”
Shortly after the voluntarily dismissal order was made public, Beauregard tweeted: “Delvonn’s goal was to spread the truth — the Mayor’s decision not to run for re-election proved he was heard! Justice!”
The withdrawal of Heckard’s suit is the latest twist in a scandal that upended Seattle’s political landscape. The primary election is Aug. 1, and 21 candidates have filed to succeed Murray.
The deadline to put Murray’s name on the Aug. 1 ballot has passed, but he could run as a write-in. Voters would need to spell his name correctly, according to King County Elections. If Murray finished in the top two in the primary, his name would appear on the general-election ballot in November.
Murray also could bypass the primary, and seek write-in votes in the general election.
Heckard filed the lawsuit against Murray in early April, contending in a salaciously detailed complaint that said Murray sexually abused him repeatedly beginning when he was a homeless 15-year-old. Heckard later estimated in an interview that he engaged in more than 50 sexual transactions with Murray over several years — all allegedly involving small cash payments and occurring at Murray’s Capitol Hill apartment.
Heckard said he decided to sue after his father died and he was in treatment for his longtime drug addiction. His lawsuit also states that Murray’s current “position of authority” prompted Heckard to bring the case “in an attempt at accountability.”
With the lawsuit’s filing, the other allegations against Murray surfaced. Jeff Simpson, Murray’s former foster son, says Murray repeatedly raped him in Portland in the 1980s, starting when Simpson was 13, and later paid him for sex as Simpson grew older.
Lloyd Anderson claims he also met Murray in the late 1970s when Murray worked at a center for troubled kids in Portland. He says Murray later paid him for sex on several occasions when Anderson was a teenager.
A fourth accuser, Maurice Lavonn Jones — a friend of Heckard’s — came forward early last month to say Murray paid him for sex several times when he was an addicted teenage prostitute in the 1980s.
Only Heckard was a party to the lawsuit. Murray vehemently denied the accusations and initially declared they wouldn’t stop him from seeking re-election.
Murray, a former state legislator and gay civil-rights champion, took criticism after he and his defense team attacked the credibility of at least some of the accusers. All of the men have felony criminal records.
Last month, Murray announced he would drop his re-election bid, serve out the final few months of his term and end his political career.
On Wednesday, as word of the lawsuit withdrawal spread, Murray’s supporters expressed sadness for what he had been through.
“I’m kind of speechless, honestly,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, the health-care-workers union. “Obviously, those of us who were supporters of Ed are clearly thinking about Ed and Michael and where their heads and hearts must be today. Because this has been so hard on them and also so hard on the city.”
Rolf added: “What else is there to say, other than, ‘Wow.’ ”
Two of Murray’s accusers — Simpson and Anderson — separately said Wednesday they were disturbed by the latest developments.
“How many times is this son of a bitch going to get away with it,” Anderson asked in a statement relayed through his attorney, Eric Makus.
Simpson said he watched Murray’s news conference online and became upset.
“Why is he vindicated?” Simpson said. “He is clearly pretending that none of this has happened. And all of this has happened.”
Simpson added he wants to take a lie-detector test to prove his own allegations and is considering a GoFundMe page to raise money to administer the test.
Under Washington civil law procedural rules, plaintiffs can drop a complaint once before trial and later refile, as long as they haven’t rested their case and the defendant hasn’t countersued.
Neither has occurred in Heckard’s lawsuit, which was in its infancy when it was dropped Tuesday. Discovery was barely underway and neither Heckard nor Murray had sat for a deposition.
The voluntary dismissal rule isn’t routinely employed, but it’s not uncommon, some legal experts say.
Speaking generally, Michael Pfau, a veteran Seattle trial lawyer who has won major sexual-abuse cases against the Catholic church and other organizations, called the rule a “very powerful procedural tool that the plaintiff has.”
It can be exercised for a variety of reasons, Pfau said. For instance, a plaintiff may not be emotionally prepared for trial, he said.
Both Pfau and Paul Luvera, a retired trial lawyer who won record-setting verdicts and settlements in several states, noted the rule conceivably can be used to get a new judge.
“If somebody gets a bad jury or a bad judge, they can voluntarily dismiss with a plan to refile later, hoping for a different judge or a better jury,” Luvera said.
Exercising the rule won’t stop the complaint’s statute of limitations, and a plaintiff may be on the hook for some legal costs incurred by the defense before the dismissal.
Because a refiled complaint is considered a new lawsuit, a plaintiff would get another affidavit of prejudice — a one-time procedural tool to remove a judge assigned to the case.
Before Galván ended up with the case, Heckard’s team used its only affidavit of prejudice to remove the first judge assigned to the case.
The decision to withdraw came after several legal setbacks for Heckard.
On May 4, Galván fined Beauregard $5,000 and chastised him for making court filings she said were aimed at generating headlines rather than furthering a legitimate legal aim.
On May 26, Galván denied Beauregard’s motion to move the case to Pierce County, rejecting his claims that the jury pool in King County had been tainted by suggestions from Murray’s attorneys that the lawsuit was motivated by anti-gay bias.
Last week, Galván rejected another motion from Beauregard for Murray’s complete medical records, ruling the request was premature and failed to follow civil-procedure rules. She also ordered Murray’s legal costs for responding to the motion be paid by Heckard’s attorneys.
Still, Beauregard said his client views the case as a success to date. “I am determined to win this case for Delvonn if it’s the last thing that I do,” he added.
Murray vowed to fight on should Heckard refile the suit.
“We’ll go through it again,” he said. “I do think based on what I’ve heard from lawyers … they have problems with their case.”