(UPDATE EARLY THURSDAY: Advocacy group suggests city continue the hearing; its statement is added to end of story)
(July 18 WSB photo)
A new development late today in the fight over a Morgan Junction house that’s been the subject of a showdown over foreclosure and eviction. Eight days ago, Mayor Ed Murray announced he was telling police to stand by until the circumstances Byron and Jean Barton‘s legal fight over the house was clearer; this afternoon, we received the following announcement from a law firm representing the company that bought the house at foreclosure auction in April:
Triangle Property Development has taken legal action to force Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle Police Department to uphold the law by removing the illegal trespassers from a West Seattle house.
The company filed the document, formally called a writ of mandamus, in King County Superior Court more than a week after Murray ordered police officers to stand down rather than remove Byron and Jean Barton from the house, which they had broken into after being legally evicted by King County Sheriff’s deputies. Triangle Property Development bought the house at a foreclosure auction in April, more than two years after the Bartons stopped making mortgage payments.
“Mayor Murray’s refusal to uphold the law is undermining the legal process by preventing a property owner from lawfully using and possessing its property,’’ said Synthia Melton, legal counsel for Triangle Property Development. “The legal issues the mayor refers to in this case have already been determined by the courts. The Mayor’s inaction is supporting criminal trespass, and can set dangerous precedent for how court-ordered evictions will be executed, making it more difficult for law enforcement to perform its job.”
Much of the media coverage surrounding the eviction of the Bartons has been incomplete, misleading or downright inaccurate. Here are the facts of the case:
According to King County property records, the Bartons received the house free and clear from a family trust in 2003 and almost immediately began to use a series of mortgages to turn the value of the house into cash. By August of 2007, the house was pledged to more than $660,000 of debt.
In 2011, the Bartons ceased making payments on their mortgages. In 2012, their lender began foreclosure proceedings, which concluded in April when Triangle Property Development bought the property at auction.
Mindful of Mr. Barton’s disability, Triangle made repeated offers of thousands of dollars of relocation assistance to the family, who refused that help in favor of a series of futile attempts to block the eviction in court.
On July 18, King County Sheriff’s deputies evicted the Bartons from the house despite the interference of protestors, and changed the locks. After the deputies left, the Bartons, along with protestors, broke into the house, committing the crimes of breaking-and-entering and trespass. Since that time, they have illegally trespassed on the property, and protesters have subjected Triangle Property Development employees and officials to harassment and abuse.
The case drew regional media attention back on Friday, July 18th, when King County Sheriff’s Deputies evicted the Bartons, four weeks after a different KCSO employee had declined to evict them because of Byron Barton’s health status. Meantime, we’re following up on this new development – including looking up the latest court documents – and will add whatever reaction we get.
ADDED 12:57 AM THURSDAY: Less than half an hour ago, the advocacy group SAFE sent this statement:
Triangle Property Development, LLC has been pressuring local public officials to displace the Barton family from their home of 61 years. Last week activists with SAFE publicly protested and successfully opposed what they called an immoral eviction of a severely disabled Vietnam Veteran and his family. The five day action culminated in Mayor Ed Murray telling the Seattle Police Department to standby while the Barton’s appeals work their way through court.
This week, Triangle filed a Writ of Mandamus against Mayor Murray and Seattle Police Chief Katherine O’Toole to have Jean and Byron Barton, a disabled veteran who requires extensive, round-the-clock home care to live, arrested and immediately transfer their home at 6548 41st Ave SW in West Seattle to Triangle. This strong arm legal tactic by Triangle is unfortunate because the ownership of the property is in dispute. Their case is in King County Superior Court, and was filed by the Bartons against JP Morgan Chase and Quality Loan Service Corp., challenging the legality of the foreclosure on their home. There is also an appellate action against Triangle’s case of Unlawful Detainer, which resulted in their attempted eviction.
Per paragraph 4.5 in Application for the writ, plaintiff Triangle wants the “Mayor and Chief O’Toole to fulfill their respective duties to protect the peace, and to abate the Bartons’ trespass upon the Property, arresting and taking the Bartons into custody if necessary…”
Triangle is a relatively new company who has already threatened to sue the King County Sheriff’s Department for contempt of court for being hesitant to carry out the Barton eviction and now they are telling the duly elected mayor of Seattle how the law should be carried out. Triangle would prefer to see Byron and Jean in jail.
“The city should make use of their option to request a continuance for the hearing regarding the writ, which is scheduled for August 8th. A continuance may allow the parties to avoid this hearing altogether. That would be a great first step in allowing the Bartons time to work out a satisfactory negotiation,” said Jill Smith, attorney for the Bartons.
This all begs the question of who runs this town? The elected officials of the City of Seattle, or the corporate interests of a property developer?
The mayor has yet to respond to our request for comment, sent after the Triangle statement on Tuesday afternoon.