By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Almost two months after the city filed civil lawsuits over the illegal cutting of more than 100 trees on public land in East Admiral, we’re hearing from some of the defendants – via court documents.
Two defendants are asking that the suits be stayed because they expect criminal charges, saying that answering the lawsuits would violate their Fifth Amendment rights.
Two others are asking that the suits be dismissed.
First – a quick recap: Back in September, five months after the illegal tree-cutting came to light, on city-owned Duwamish Head Greenspace parcels, City Attorney Pete Holmes announced lawsuits seeking more than $1.6 million in damages. Those sued by the city included three couples who own nearby homes, two people alleged to have been involved in the cutting, and various unnamed “John/Jane Does.”
None commented after the lawsuits were announced, but some responses from defendants have been filed in recent weeks, we discovered during a routine check of the online Superior Court files. The responses vary and include motions to dismiss one suit and delay another – the latter, with a contention that criminal charges are expected (something the City Attorney said in September could be possible).
This past Monday, lawyers for one of the couples, Kostas and Linda Kyrimis, filed a motion to stay the civil suit against them – to put it on hold. In a declaration supporting the motion, lawyer David Gehrke, noting he was engaged to represent the couple after a Seattle Police detective left a business card on their door in April, wrote:
I have spoken with some other attorneys that are representing various people that live in the immediate vicinity of the Kyrimis’ and have good cause to believe that one or more criminal charges are potentially going to be brought against them (Kyrimis and others). These charges, at worst, could be multiple counts of felonies and/or misdemeanors, potentially down to something as minor that they could “compromise.”
Gehrke goes on to argue that if the civil suit is not stayed, in any answer of it, “certain admissions would be construed and held against them in any criminal case.” The motion written by lawyer William Simmons contends, however, that the evidence against the Kyrimises “is not strong.”
Meantime, the responses filed so far by other named defendants, Stanley and Mary Harrelson and Martin and Karrie Riemer, take a different format.
The Harrelsons’ response filed by lawyer Clayton Graham in mid-October, is the most extensive. It mostly does not respond to “legal conclusions” but does admit that Stanley Harrelson hired two other people named in the lawsuits, Forrest Bishop and John Russo, “to trim trees on and near the Harrelson Property.” Their response also includes:
… The Harrelson Defendants admit that on February 5, 2016, the Harrelson Defendants sent a letter to the City advising the City of what had occurred on the Parcels and offering to share a remediation plan the Harrelson Defendants had developed with a former arborist for the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. …
… The Harrelson Defendants admit that they are not aware of any permission given by the City to cut trees on the Parcels. …
The Harrelson Defendants admit that Stanley J. Harrelson hired Defendants Bishop and Russo to trim trees on and near the Harrelson Property; the Harrelson Defendants specifically deny that they hired Defendants Bishop and Russo to cut down any trees within the Parcels, and specifically deny that they acted in concert or coordination with the Riemer Defendants.
To the extent a response is required, the Harrelson Defendants admit that Defendants Bishop and/or Russo cut down trees on the City’s property.
To the extent that a response is required, the Harrelson Defendants deny that the City is entitled to the relief requested from the Harrelson Defendants
A similar but less extensive response document was filed by the Riemers on November 7th. They admit that they “hired Bishop and Russo to trim trees and remove debris on and near the Riemer property.” They also say they are not aware of any permission given by the city, and they “deny that any tree cutting improved the views from the Riemers’ home,” while they admit that Bishop and Russo cut down trees on the city’s property.
They ask for dismissal of the lawsuit against them, contending that “(P)laintiff’s damages, if any, were caused by plaintiff’s own negligence” or a third party.
After reading the various response documents, we contacted the City Attorney’s Office for comment, particularly on the Kyrimises’ motion to stay the lawsuit, and its contention that criminal charges are expected. Through spokesperson Kimberly Mills, the response: “Our office is disappointed that these defendants are not cooperating in the investigation, and we will oppose their motion. We have no update on potential criminal charges.” We also checked with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; no case referred there so far, says spokesperson Dan Donohoe.
Another court document sets next Tuesday (November 22nd) as the date for King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell to consider the Kyrimises’ motion to stay the suit. The trial date for the lawsuits remains tentatively set – many factors can change it – for September 2017.