In Seattle protest trial, sanctions bids fly

  • Businesses and landlords file complaint for protest zone
  • The parties claim deleted texts

(Reuters) – A lawsuit in Seattle federal court over the city’s response to the 2020 protest zone used by anti-racism protesters has erupted as both sides want the judge to punish the other over text message evidence that they believe are missing or removed.

Attorneys for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, representing the businesses and owners suing the city, said in a court filing Wednesday that city leaders, including the mayor and the heads of the fire and police departments, had deleted the text messages during the litigation.

The firm said the missing evidence will deprive plaintiffs of “critical communications” sent during the organized protest zone that lasted about a month after George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, while he was in police custody in Minneapolis.

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On Thursday, Seattle hit back in its own offer of penalties, telling the judge that some plaintiffs deliberately deleted their own posts about the protest. In a filing, Seattle attorneys said that “although the city went to great lengths to resurrect” the missing posts from its employees, the plaintiffs “made no such effort.”

The plaintiffs, who include real estate investment firms and small retail stores, broadly said in their lawsuit that the city violated property rights when it allegedly ‘approved’ a barricaded protest zone in the trendy neighborhood of Capitol Hill. The complaint seeks damages, including loss of income and property value.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly in Seattle to consider punishing the city for the deleted text messages with a default judgment on the city’s liability.

Seattle asked Zilly to prevent plaintiffs from relying on certain communications. Both parties claim legal fees.

Representatives from the Seattle Mayor’s Office and the city’s Legal Department did not immediately comment Thursday, and city attorneys did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Morgan Lewis’ partners Patty Eakes and Angelo Calfo, who represent the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Seattle said in court papers it took “measured and appropriate steps to expeditiously unfold events” in response to the protest. The city argued that “the conduct complained of by the plaintiffs is that of private parties that the plaintiffs did not name in this lawsuit.”

A jury trial expected to last up to three weeks is scheduled for June 2023.

The case is Hunters Capital LLC et al v. City of Seattle, US District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 2:20-cv-00983-TSZ.

For Complainants: Patty Eakes and Angelo Calfo of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

For Seattle: Joe Groshong of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office; Arthur Harrigan Jr. by Harrigan Leyh Farmer & Thomsen

Read more:

Seattle police clear protest area after outbreaks of violence

Diminished but not dismantled, Seattle’s protest occupation enters its fourth week

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