ORIGINAL REPORT, 3:36 PM: Two developments this afternoon in the case of Jean and Byron Barton, whose Morgan Junction home was foreclosed on, then auctioned off. Three weeks after King County Sheriff’s Office deputies carried out an order to evict them – followed hours later by the Bartons re-occupying the house – the property’s new owners had a court hearing today. Triangle Property Development sought an order to require the city to enforce trespassing law and get the Bartons out of the house; you’ll recall that Mayor Murray had told Seattle Police to “stand by” while legal matters played out. King County Superior Court Judge Mariane Spearman listed to arguments but did not rule immediately. This motion, by the way, did not involve the Bartons’ separate case alleging that the foreclosure was illegal. We had a crew at the hearing, as well as in the hallway outside the courtroom, where Jean Barton joined the SAFE advocacy group in a pre-hearing news conference (added: video of her brief comments):
We will add more details from both parts of the event later.
Meantime, Mayor Ed Murray‘s office forwarded a letter from the city Office of Housing, detailing its efforts to offer the Bartons help with housing, mentioning they have not taken advantage of that help so far. The letter also, toward the end, mentions that city staff visiting the Bartons’ home “observed alarming conditions inside the residence that required them to submit mandatory reports to Adult Protective Services.” Here’s the letter as a PDF – or read it, embedded, below:
They did not elaborate on the “alarming conditions.”
ADDED: In case you’re interested in the legal documents – here’s the Triangle petition:
And the city’s reply:
10 PM NOTE: Still more to add; check back in the early morning.
EARLY AM ADD: After the jump (if you are reading from the main page), co-publisher Patrick Sand‘s notes from the hearing:
Judge Spearman heard from three people – David Lawyer for Triangle, Patrick Downs from the city attorney’s office, and Patty Shelledy, legal adviser to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Lawyer noted that KCSO carried out the eviction exactly three weeks ago. He talked about all the legal procedures that began in April and led to the eviction in July. He contended that the city admits that the eviction was properly sought and carried out and it is the city’s duty – not their discretion – to have SPD remove the Bartons. At the end he said that Triangle has nothing against the Bartons and they have no interest in seeing the Bartons arrested – they just want the house vacated.
Lawyer hit the point several times that the writ – which he called an extraordinary measure – would only apply to this case and this case only. This was to blunt some of the case law where writs have been issued to enforce citywide issues.
Time is also an issue. Downs said the city wants time to find the Bartons alternatives; the judge pointedly asked – how long will that take? He said he did not know and mentioned that the Bartons had been “reluctant” to take some of the options presented so far (as noted in the letter shown earlier in this report).
Downs had two major points for the city. First, the police have the discretion to arrest. Second, getting people off a certain piece of property falls to the sheriff. He kept referencing the Renter Landlord Tenant Agreement from the state and how it applied to all this. Downs also brought up a case from the WTO where a business owner sued because the police did not remove rioters. Court decision in that said the police have means other than arrest to achieve their means.
All of which kept coming back to discretionary vs. mandatory.
Downs said that the city has discretion in how they wish to handle the matter, but the sheriff does not, so, he contended, it is therefore up to the sheriff. The judge asked if the property wasn’t in fact in the city and Downs said it is and the process of eviction needed to start all over again so the sheriff could remove the Bartons.
That’s when Patty Shelledy got up and said this was becoming “Groundhog Day.” Her contention was that the KCSO did their job and to ask the KCSO to enforce laws inside another jurisdiction flew in the face of state statute and existing agreements between the county and the city. She said this is a politically difficult situation but not a legally difficult one. She wanted to know how many times the city wanted the sheriff to evict so that the current situation could play itself out over and over.
Lawyer concluded saying Triangle only wants the Bartons out. Triangle is not seeking an arrest. The are asking for the writ so SPD can do just that. He said he is aware that the city and the Bartons are talking about alternaitve housing but his firm has not been party to any of that.
The judge ended by asking Downs some questions. Is Triangle the Legal owner? He said yes. She asked if the Barton had a legal right to be in the home? He said he did not know. Then she asked if they are in the house right now. He said yes, in the basement. She asked if the city can find them temporary living arrangements. He said the city is working on it. She asked if he understood that the owner wants a date and can that date be provided? He said he did not know but he knew that the city and the sheriff are trying together on this. She came back around and said – so how much time do you need? He didn’t know. Last, she asked if the Bartons are currently paying rent on the house. No, was the answer from both attorneys and that was that. She said she would take it under advisement and report back to all parties.
In a statement e-mailed after the hearing, the advocacy group that organized the pre-hearing news conference, SAFE, said in part, “Unfortunately, the judge was not given anything approaching adequate information about the Bartons’ case; it was clear that Assistant City Attorney Patrick Downs had not conducted proper research about the Bartons’ case, and it was only in the last five minutes of the hearing that the Judge received the Mayor’s legal response.” (Its full statement is here.)