Court asked to determine fault in open public meetings lawsuit

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:39am

Defendants in a lawsuit alleging violations of the state Open Public Meetings Act are seeking a partial summary judgment.

The defendants are current or former Shoreline City Councilmembers.

The motion for partial summary judgment was filed on Friday, Sept. 22. Defendants are asking the court to decide whether there is any basis to claims that they knowingly violated the Open Public Meetings Act.

There are two components to the plaintiffs’ claim in the lawsuit, said defense attorney Steve DiJulio, who was hired by the city to provide legal defense for city officials. One component is a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act and the other is a knowing violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

“We are asking the court to dismiss that portion of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit,” said DiJulio about the “knowing” violation.

A hearing date for the partial summary judgment is set for Oct. 20. DiJulio said the second claim in the lawsuit “doesn’t have merit either,” but defendants will be acting on that component at a later time.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 2. in King County Superior Court, states Deputy Mayor Maggie Fimia, Mayor Bob Ransom, Councilwoman Janet Way and former Councilman John Chang violated the Open Public Meetings Act on numerous occasions from Dec. 5 through Dec. 27.

Those filing the lawsuit include former Mayor Connie King, former Councilman Kevin Grossman and Shoreline resident John D. Hollinrake, Jr. They are represented by attorney Michael Rasch of Shoreline.

The plaintiffs request a $100 civil penalty against each of the defendants, attorney fees and injunction against future violations. The impetus for the lawsuit, said plaintiffs, was when former city manager Steve Burkett was forced to resign. They claim there were illegal council meetings held to discuss the issue.

Rasch said there are material issues of fact the court will need to resolve before partial summary judgment could be granted, which he said is “not appropriate” in the case.

At the court date, Rasch said he will share testimony from two Councilmembers who say an illegal meeting was held.

“I think that will defeat their motion (for partial summary judgment) right away,” Rasch said. “I believe there are some very important facts in dispute.”

If a portion of the lawsuit claim is settled without a full trial, the partial summary judgment could save taxpayer’s money. The civil suit and a recall petition, which was previously filed and then withdrawn by residents, have resulted in a total of $73,720 of public money spent on legal defense, said city attorney Ian Sievers.

Council members previously voted in favor of paying for legal expenses for the defense, with the stipulation that defendants would reimburse the city if a final judgment finds they knowingly, willfully or intentionally violated the law.

The lawsuit trial date is set for June 25, 2007.

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