Seattle City Council votes to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Kshama Sawant's legal fees connected to recall

On Tuesday, Seattle City Council approved the use of city funds to pay for Kshama Sawant’s legal fees connected to the recall effort underway against her.

The people behind the recall movement will argue their case in front of a King County Superior Court judge on Wednesday.

 The campaign says the 2,000 individuals who have donated so far have given an average of $24.

They call it a grassroots movement to take District 3 back from Sawant.

The campaign says people are afraid to speak up in support of the recall, fearful of retaliation.

At the heart of their argument is that Sawant violated the law and undermined public safety in the scope of her official duty as a council member. They say taxpayer dollars should not be used for Sawant’s legal fees.

“I do think it’s unfortunate that’s something that should be very pro forma like this is being politicized and so I wanted to address for the moment at the top that I will be voting yes,” Council Member Andrew Lewis said.

 Council President Lorena Gonzalez says the city attorney’s office has made it clear to her that the law is cut and dry in this case. Gonzalez telling other members before the vote that the city should pay for Sawant’s legal fees.

 “I want to be clear that our consideration of this council bill is not a statement on or vote upon the merits of the recall petition,” Gonzalez said.

In the end, a 7 to 1 vote came down in support of Sawant.

Council Member Debora Juarez was the only person to vote no.

“I don’t agree that this is just pro forma and the city attorney says they are willing and able, before we get to that, Council has to make a decision to approve and the approval is contingent on the question on whether or not Council Member Sawant was acting in the scope of her official duties,” Sawant said.

But Gonzalez says that question is not required to come up for discussion under the law in this case.

 In court, the recall campaign will argue 6 alleged violations including a June incident when they say  Sawant led a march inside City Hall after hours. An employee at City Hall filed a complaint shortly after the event.

Another alleged violation is when Sawant led a group of protesters to Mayor Durkan’s home, disclosing an address that is confidential due to safety reasons.  

 The people behind the recall also blame Sawant for ‘CHOP’ saying she helped create the autonomous zone by encouraging protesters to take over SPD’s East Precinct.

Those allegations council members say is up to the judge to consider not them.

“It’s a slippery slope if we start picking and choosing who does or doesn’t receive these legal representations,” Lewis said.

This isn’t the first time Sawant has been in legal trouble. Back in 2017 she had to fend off a defamation suit brought against her and the city by two Seattle Police officers. The officers were involved in the shooting death of Che Taylor.

Since Tuesday’s hearing centered around Sawant, she was not allowed to attend the meeting. After Q13 New requested an interview, a spokesperson for the Council said she has been advised not to talk about the issue.

If the judge decides the recall movement has merits to move forward, the group will have to gather more than 10,000 valid signatures to put Sawant’s recall on the ballot in February.