The Washington State Supreme Court on Thursday approved the recall of Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant to pave the way for signatures and possibly an election this year that could oust Sawant from office .
Recall petitioners now have 180 days to collect more than 10,000 signatures from Sawant Council District 3 residents. If they collect the signatures, a recall election – an up or down vote on Sawant – would likely take place in August or November.
The recall, led by Seattle-based Ernest Lou, began last summer and has raised more than $ 294,000 and spent more than $ 107,000. Sawant’s recall defense campaign raised more than $ 309,000 and spent more than $ 182,000.
In September, a King County Superior Court judge allowed the recall to raise four separate charges. Sawant appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
Lou’s recall petition accuses Sawant of four different offenses: she delegated her office’s employment decisions to her political party; She used the city’s resources to promote an election initiative “Tax Amazon”. She let protesters into town hall during a June night protest. and she spoke at a protest outside the home of Mayor Jenny Durkan (Durkan’s address is protected by a government confidentiality program due to her previous work as a federal prosecutor).
The Supreme Court unanimously found the charges are sufficient to move the recall forward.
The court allowed the recall to prosecute the crimes related to the Tax Amazon electoral initiative, the demonstration in the town hall and the protest in Durkan’s house, but denied the charge of delegating her office’s employment decisions.
Sawant, a socialist representing Capitol Hill and the Central District, was elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2015 and 2019. Normally she would not be re-elected until 2023.
Their campaign against the recall, the Kshama Solidarity Campaign, said the court had “given the go-ahead for the billionaire-sponsored right-wing recall” and announced a rally on Capitol Hill this Saturday to build support for their recall defense.
“Big Biz and the right wing are angry about the impact of socialist politics and social movements in Seattle and how we have inspired working people across the country,” the campaign wrote on Twitter. “They are now trying to use the courts and their deep pockets to overthrow Councilor Sawant’s re-election in 2019.”
Sawant’s campaign spent money on office space and employee salaries, while most of the recall campaign’s spend went on legal and advisory fees.
The court’s role in the recall process is to assume the allegations are true and determine whether they are specific and serious enough to warrant a possible impeachment.
According to state law, the charge must represent “misconduct, misconduct or violation of the oath of office”.
In October, the court ended efforts to recall Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, finding that charges against her – allowing police to use tear gas without caring for the community’s health – were “inadequate “Was to push a recall.
The City of Seattle is paying the legal costs for Sawant and Durkan for their recall defense.
Lou, represented by former US attorney John McKay, argued that Sawant’s appeal was more interested in denying the truth of the charges than in their seriousness and “frugality.”
He wrote that the allegations are all true and “based on an extensive record,” but that it is up to the voters, not the court, to decide.
“The indictment is how Councilor Sawant endangered Seattle residents and city workers, violated the Seattle City Code and state laws, and violated their oath of office,” Lou argued in legal briefs. “Voters have the constitutional right to interpret these facts in our state’s recall process.”
Sawant, represented by labor attorney Dmitri Iglitzin, argued that all four charges against her were neglected for various reasons.
The charge that she opened the town hall for an overcrowded nightly protest despite COVID restrictions has failed, Iglitzin wrote, because protests were not prohibited and the opening of the town hall was at Sawant’s discretion.
The court disagreed.
With the opening of the town hall, Judge Barbara Madsen wrote for the court: Sawant “probably hindered business in the city and people at risk”.
“Councilor Sawant knew the city council had closed City Hall to the public in response to the governor’s order to stay home – stay healthy, when she voted to allow the city council itself to meet remotely “wrote Madsen.
The recall petitioners, Iglitzin wrote, did not provide evidence that Sawant led the rally to Durkan’s house, only that she spoke about it.
However, the court ruled: “It is no coincidence that the demonstrators were in front of Mayor Durkan’s house.”
The court found that Sawant’s protests did not constitute “criminal harassment,” but could potentially violate the Seattle City Code’s provisions on the disclosure of confidential information.
Sawant argued that at the time she used the city’s resources to promote Tax Amazon it was just a proposal for a policy, not an election proposal, and therefore there were no disclosure requirements.
But the court disagreed again.
“As a politician, she is free to sponsor and allow events in her office
provide food to voters, ”wrote Madsen. “However, by providing picket signs and telephone banking for the initiative, their behavior came into the area of promoting an election proposal, as these are explicit measures in support of the election proposal.”
Sawant’s attempt to delegate hiring and firing decisions in her office to her Socialist Alternative party is “inherently discretionary,” Iglitzin wrote in legal briefs, and Lou has provided no evidence that Sawant “is breaking the law want”. Comparing it to politicians who signed pledges to support a party platform or not to levy taxes, he said it was “just not something [the law] was designed to protect against. “
On these charges, the court denied the recall attempt, stating that Sawant “has the right to structure its internal decision-making process as it wishes”.