The city has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by one of five men who this year publicly accused the former mayor of paying for or forcing them to have sex with him decades ago when they were teenagers.
In the end, a lawsuit that upended Seattle’s power structure and ignited a string of sexual-abuse allegations that extinguished Ed Murray’s political career will be resolved by a $150,000 payment, courtesy of city taxpayers.
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Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes announced late Saturday the city has agreed to pay that amount to settle a lawsuit brought by Delvonn Heckard, one of five men this year to publicly accuse the former mayor of paying for or forcing them to have sex with him decades ago when they were teenagers.
Heckard, in turn, has agreed to drop his case against both the city and Murray.
Murray also agreed to the settlement, but he continued to deny the allegations in statement Saturday.
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Under the agreement, the former mayor will be responsible for covering only his own private legal costs, with the city bearing the payout to Heckard.
In an interview late Saturday, Holmes called the price a “bargain” compared with what the city faced in potential legal costs alone if it opted to fight Heckard’s lawsuit in court.
Heckard initially had named only Murray as a defendant in his original sexual-abuse lawsuit. But after withdrawing and refiling the case, he added the city as a co-defendant, contending Murray used his public office and city resources to slander Heckard and his attorneys during his months of public denials while clinging to office.
“In defending a defamation claim, the cardinal rule is that the truth is a defense,” Holmes said. “But how do you go back 30 years to find what is or isn’t true? The cost to the city in trying to unwind all of this and deal with every allegation through the lens of a trial that could last months or even years means that this outcome is far better than what we could have hoped for. This is not rolling over by any stretch.”
Seattle’s newly elected Mayor Jenny Durkan, in a statement, called the settlement “the right thing to do and allows our City to begin to heal.”
A tort claim filed by Heckard against the city in advance of his latest lawsuit sought $1 million to $3 million in damages.
Steve Fogg, Murray’s attorney, said the former mayor was prepared to claim full indemnification against any liability to Heckard’s latest lawsuit if it went forward, arguing all liability should be shifted to the city.
“Ed was prepared to fight, but we weren’t going to stand in the way of a settlement if the city wanted to settle the case,” Fogg said. “And we made very clear that Ed was not going to admit these allegations are true — because they’re false — and he wasn’t going to contribute his own funds.”
In Murray’s statement, he apologized if, during his public denials, he “made any statements that were interpreted as an attempt to ‘blame the victim.’ ”
Lincoln Beauregard, Heckard’s lead attorney, said Saturday that Heckard is relieved the case has been resolved, despite Murray not admitting abuse.
“My client is delighted to have some closure,” Beauregard said. “The situation with Murray is imperfect, but we think we did a lot of justice.”
Murray resigned in September after The Seattle Times reported that a fifth accuser — Murray’s younger cousin, Joseph Dyer — claimed Murray had molested him for about a year in the 1970s when he was 13.
Murray has denied all five men’s accusations.
Beauregard added that he and Heckard’s other lawyers, Lawand Anderson and Julie Kays, agreed to donate all $50,000 of their settlement proceeds to sexual-assault recovery organizations. Heckard, who is in rehabilitation from drug addiction, will receive the remaining $100,000.
“This case was never about the money, we’ve said that from the beginning,” Beauregard said. “But I really believe that the settlement … will help Delvonn as he continues toward recovery.”
The settlement ends a legal battle fraught with salacious details from the onset, as Heckard’s initial complaint filed in April graphically described how Murray allegedly raped and molested him repeatedly for payments of $10 to $20, beginning when Heckard was a drug-addled 15-year-old hanging out on the streets of Capitol Hill in the late 1980s.
Shortly before Heckard filed his suit, two other men, Jeff Simpson and Lloyd Anderson, told The Times that Murray had sexually abused them as teenagers while they were living in Portland in the early 1980s.
Murray fought back, emphatically denying the claims and hiring high-profile attorney Robert Sulkin. The mayor publicly attacked his accusers based on their troubled pasts and criminal records, and claimed Beauregard’s firm was part of a conservative effort targeting him for his progressive agenda.
But the lawsuit took its toll. A fourth accuser, Lavon Jones, swore in a statement signed in jail that Murray also paid him for sex as a teenager. Murray, a Democrat who appeared a shoo-in for a second term, announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election and would leave politics after finishing his term at year’s end.
When Heckard in June withdrew his lawsuit — part of a legal maneuver to get a new judge on the case — Murray pounced. He called a news conference to declare he’d been vindicated.
In July, newly released documents showed that an Oregon child-welfare investigator in 1984 concluded Murray had sexually abused Simpson, his foster son.
Murray resigned in September, after his cousin, Dyer, came forward.
Heckard refiled his lawsuit about five weeks later, naming the city as a co-defendant.
Holmes and Fogg approached Beauregard about a month ago. Both Beauregard and Holmes said the tenor of their discussions was professional and friendly from the start. The final details were wrapped up Saturday, Holmes said.
“Ultimately, we arrived at an amount that all parties could agree on in the moment,” Beauregard said.
As part of the settlement, all parties issued statements Saturday. Murray noted in his that he regretted penning an Op-Ed piece suggesting Beauregard and his law firm were “part of a right-wing conspiracy” against him.
Holmes said his office had an outside legal analysis done and explored settlement formulas before hashing out the deal. The settlement avoids potentially grueling litigation, including depositions of current and past city employees, as well as Murray.
“Bottom line for me is that this was the deal in a complex, litigious multiparty matter that was in the best interests of the city,” Holmes said.
Other accusers could still file claims. Simpson, Anderson and Dyer each has said he may explore legal options, though Heckard is the only accuser to formally file a suit so far.