The city notches partial victory in its defense of two defamation lawsuits against City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. A judge threw out a portion of the lawsuit by landlord Carl Haglund. Outside counsel costs so far in that defense? $258,752.78.
Notch a partial victory in the city of Seattle’s defense in one of two defamation lawsuits against City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
But the city says the suit has cost taxpayers $258,752.78 so far in outside counsel expenses in the case of landlord Carl Haglund, who took issue with Sawant’s referring to him “as a slumlord” and, to strengthen her point, as a “notorious slumlord.”
One of the exhibits included what his lawsuit says was an image that came from a 2015 Sawant re-election campaign leaflet. It shows a nasty-looking rat on its hind legs, with a name tag that reads, “Carl Haglund,” and captioned, “Slumlord!”
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled against Haglund in four of his nine claims, siding with the city’s argument that they “fail as a matter of law.”
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The city said in court documents that as for the remaining claims, it expects “to move for their summary disposition.”
A spokeswoman for Sawant said, “While things are under litigation, we’re not able to comment.”
Brad Anderson, attorney for Haglund, could not be reached for comment.
The city is defending Sawant in another defamation lawsuit, this one brought by Seattle Police officers Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding.
They claim Sawant falsely declared they had committed “brutal murder” in the 2016 fatal shooting of Che Taylor. An inquest jury later cleared them of wrongdoing.
In a Facebook video dated Feb. 25, 2016, Sawant is seen at a downtown protest using a megaphone. She can be heard talking about “the brutal murder of Che Taylor, the blatant murder at the hands of the police … I am here as an elected official … I am completely committed to holding the Seattle Police Department accountable …”
That case, says Dan Nolte, city attorney’s office spokesman, “remains ongoing.” He says the city has filed a motion asking the two officers to clarify their complaint.
In both cases, the city is using outside counsel, Nolte says, because the city doesn’t have “specialized defamation attorneys.”
At the start of the Haglund case, the city was given an “initial proposed budget” of $185,000 by the K&L Gates law firm as its outside counsel — now $73,752.80 over the estimate. No estimate was given for costs for the police officers’ suit.
In her nine-page ruling in the Haglund case, Pechman went point by point in explaining her decision:
1) Tortious interference: Pechman writes that as an example of this, Haglund took issue with Sawant using the term the “Carl Haglund Law” when the City Council passed an ordinance barring landlords from raising rents on units in very poor condition.
The judge says Haglund “has not identified any lost profits, increased costs, or lost financing.”
2) Misappropriation and right of publicity: Pechman writes that Haglund charged that the Sawant campaign used “his name and identity for their own use or benefit.”
The judge says he had no case if publication of his name “relates to matters of public interest.” She says that Sawant did not use Haglund’s name as an endorsement when seeking campaign donations.
“To the contrary, these solicitations evince unambiguous antipathy between landlord and politician”
3) Equal protection: Haglund charges that other landlords with outstanding code violations were not “singled out as ‘slumlords.’”
Pechman writes Haglund failed to establish the other landlords raised rents after code violations or their tenants protested such rent increases.
4) Due process: Haglund claims he had a “property right in the use of his name and identity.” He says Sawant deprived him of this by “misappropriating his name and identity” when naming the Carl Haglund Law, and he was never offered a fair hearing on whether he was a “slumlord” or a “notorious slumlord.”
The judge says Haglund did not offer “sufficient facts to support his due process claim.” And even if the claims were supported, writes the judge, Haglund “has identified neither a ‘liberty’ nor a ‘property’ interest, nor any governmental action depriving him of these interests.”
Other claims include intentional infliction and negligent infliction of emotional distress; false light; defamation and defamation per se.