In Seattle protest lawsuit, bids for sanctions fly

  • Businesses, property owners sue over protest zone
  • Parties claim texts deleted

(Reuters) – A lawsuit in Seattle federal court over the city’s response to the 2020 protest zone used by anti-racism demonstrators has flared up as both sides want the judge to punish the other for text message evidence that they say is missing or deleted.

Lawyers at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, representing businesses and property owners who are suing the city, said in a court filing on Wednesday that city leaders including the mayor and chiefs of the fire and police departments deleted text messages during the litigation.

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

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On Thursday, Seattle fired back in its own bid seeking sanctions, telling the judge that some plaintiffs deliberately deleted their own messages about the protest. In a filing, Seattle’s lawyers said that “while the city has gone to great lengths to resurrect” its employees’ missing messages, the plaintiffs “have made no such effort.”

The plaintiffs, which include real estate investment firms and small retail shops, broadly said in their lawsuit the city infringed on property rights when it allegedly “endorsed” a barricaded protest zone in the trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood. The complaint seeks damages including loss of revenue and property value.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs asked US District Judge Thomas Zilly in Seattle to consider punishing the city for deleted text messages through a default judgment on the city’s liability.

Seattle asked Zilly to bar the ability of the plaintiffs to rely on certain communications. Both sides are seeking legal fees.

Representatives from the Seattle mayor’s office and city legal department did not immediately comment on Thursday, and lawyers for the city did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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

Seattle has said in court filings that it took “measured, appropriate steps to rapidly unfolding events” in response to the demonstration. The city has argued “the conduct that the plaintiffs complain of is that of private parties who plaintiffs have not named in this suit.”

A jury estimated trial to take up to three weeks is scheduled for June 2023.

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

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

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

read more:

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Diminished but not dismantled, Seattle protest occupation enters fourth week

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