Seattle councilwoman who let protesters into city hall gets taxpayer funding for recall defense

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A socialist Seattle councilwoman who let protesters into city hall in June will be receiving taxpayer funds to help pay for her legal defense against a recall effort stemming, in part, from that incident.

On Tuesday, the Seattle City Council voted 7-1 to fund Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s defense as she prepared for a court battle to push back against the recall, the Seattle Times reported.

The funding ordinance will cover Sawant’s expenses for outside legal counsel she has already hired to oppose the recall effort, according to the city attorney’s office. City Council staff estimate taxpayers will be forced to shell out $75,000.

Sawant did recuse herself from the special Tuesday meeting of the council.

“Councilmember Sawant was reelected less than a year ago,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who told the Times that a number of residents from his district did not want him to support the defense fund.

However, Pedersen ignored the requests. “Adequate legal counsel should be available to a duly elected official defending a recall petition whether or not they can afford such representation,” he said.

In June, Sawant used her key to unlock the front door of City Hall so hundreds of demonstrators could flood the lobby to demand the resignation of Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan because she refused to support efforts to defund the Seattle Police Department — which Sawant supports.

At the time, COVID-19 restrictions including mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing rules were in place in Seattle and elsewhere, but Sawant hypocritically brushed aside concerns that the invasion of city hall could turn into a super-spreader event.

The recall effort was launched by a group of Seattle residents who allege violations in a half-dozen instances, including allowing protesters into city hall, the Seattle Times reported.

In addition, the residents allege she encouraged demonstrators to occupy the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct in June as well, and “helped create the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP) Zone” while using city resources to push a ballot issue and allowing her political party to make employment decisions in her office.

The council’s president, M. Lorena Gonzalez, said during the meeting a number of times that funding Sawant’s defense was not a statement regarding the recall allegations. Rather, she said, it came down to following council precedent to fund defenses for elected officials.

State law allows for it, but the city council and the city attorney’s office both have to sign off.

The council funded the defense of then-Council President Richard Conlin during a 2011 recall effort that was ultimately unsuccessful because of his support for the Highway 99 tunnel project.

“We have a process for picking our elected representatives, it’s through elections,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said. “It’s a slippery slope if we start picking and choosing who does or does not receive these legal representations.”

That said, supporting a public works project and facilitating the protest of a sitting mayor inside the city hall building could be construed much differently.

The one lone ‘no’ vote came from Councilwoman Debora Juarez, who said members should have first considered whether or not Sawant was acting within the confines of her official duties before agreeing to spend taxpayer funds to defend her.

Per the state constitution, elected officials can be recalled if they allegedly violate their oaths of office or for “acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office.”

There is a hearing scheduled Wednesday in King County Superior Court to determine if the recall effort can proceed. If the court approves, backers will need 10,000 signatures from residents of Sawant’s Capitol Hill district in order to submit the recall to voters.

A court-approved a recall effort earlier this summer against Durkan for failing to implement new policies following police use of tear gas against rioters.


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