WEST SEATTLE TREE-CUTTING LAWSUITS: Two defendants seek delay; two seek dismissal

(WSB photo from last spring)

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.

29 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE TREE-CUTTING LAWSUITS: Two defendants seek delay; two seek dismissal"

  • d November 16, 2016 (3:39 pm)

    They are criminals and criminals should be charged accordingly regardless of how many millions of dollars they’re worth throw the book at them…

    • LeeRae Blaylock November 16, 2016 (7:49 pm)

      Innocent until proven Guilty! Hey this is the United States of America, at least until January!!!!!!!!!

      • s November 17, 2016 (9:16 am)

        They’ve admitted to committing a crime, so they’re criminals.

        Criminal: A person who has committed a crime.

      • John November 17, 2016 (1:38 pm)

        That was funny……………

  • montanapup November 16, 2016 (5:51 pm)

    Curious; Tracy, any documentation on the defendants Bishop and Russo from attorneys or responses from representatives regarding their involvement?

    It appears as if they are being undercut by those who hired them!

    • WSB November 16, 2016 (7:06 pm)

      Not as of my last check just before publishing this.

  • wb November 16, 2016 (6:17 pm)

    Oh no they didn’t.  Why can’t they apologize, become  better people, and pay up?

  • AMD November 16, 2016 (6:33 pm)

    The city’s damages, if any, were caused by the city?  Really?  

    Your tree “trimmers” went rogue and did thousands of dollars worth of work all on their own without any discussion pf payment for that huge scope of work?  

    And cut down 153 trees they didn’t know if their employers liked or not because that’s just what you do when you’re hired to trim a few trees and remove debris?

    Yet they didn’t remove any of the debris from cutting the trees down despite the fact that you apparently hired them to remove debris?

    And they expect someone to take that seriously?  

    I really can’t wait to hear the response from the tree trimmers who are being thrown under the bus.

  • ACG November 16, 2016 (6:50 pm)

    Hmmmm… hiring people to trim trees “on OR NEAR their property”. Didn’t know that we can treat things NEAR our property as our own. 

  • Dale November 16, 2016 (8:21 pm)

    I’m sorry, I don’t want criminal prosecution in this instance. I don’t. I don’t know any of the parties and there are various theories, issues about why this occurred. Demand full restitution shared by all parties, equally. Those that deny risk criminal prosecution on their own. Seek resolution. I don’t see the end benefit of being right, or better then them . We’ve all been educated. 

    • wsea98116 November 17, 2016 (12:09 pm)

      I don’t think anyone is concerned about being right or better than them. Without criminal prosecution, the policy becomes- do whatever you want without regard to public safety or property, and worst case- you only pay for damages. Best case, pure profit!

       Either way- valuable view property!

  • ScubaFrog November 16, 2016 (8:34 pm)

    Charge them criminally.  Whoever did this – are criminals.  Trash.  Filth.  And should be treated as such.  Frankly they don’t belong in our neighborhood.  They have the means, and should move.  They’ve lost their welcome in West Seattle.  And apparently they have no shame.  Disgusting cretins.

  • TheKing November 16, 2016 (9:13 pm)

    If you think this is bad, wait until sound transit starts bulldozing homes and businesses for the light rail. 

    • AMD November 16, 2016 (10:31 pm)

      What does a transit company lawfully digging in areas they have the rights to have to do with homeowners illegally clear-cutting land they don’t own?

  • Canton November 16, 2016 (10:13 pm)

    Agree ACG, ” on or near their property”. Near being the ONLY fault the Harrelson’s claim fault in. Of course Stan’s business is managing multi family housing based on a local downtown pier. Guess old rule, better to ask for forgiveness, than permission. Even though there’s evidence this isn’t the first time these trees have been cut.

  • Patriots November 16, 2016 (10:22 pm)

    These people could be presidential candidates someday and we will elect them to run the country. God Bless America 

  • Elle Nell November 16, 2016 (10:35 pm)

    Here here, Scubafrog! My sentiments EXACtLy.. 

  • WestCake November 16, 2016 (11:12 pm)

    The city can’t prove this occurred otherwise they would charge them criminally.

  • RayWest November 17, 2016 (4:12 am)

    I think they should be prosecuted criminally, but not receive jail time. Stiff fines, full restitution, a criminal record, and hundreds of hours of community service would be appropriate.  If the city doesn’t take a hard stance on this, it just opens the door for more wealthy property owners to do the same and think they can either get away with it or just pay a fine (for which they can afford) and then get to keep their unlawful views.

  • anonyme November 17, 2016 (6:33 am)

    CHARGE THEM.  What they did is like hiring someone to set off a bomb in a building, then claiming no culpability because they didn’t realize quite so much damage would be done.  Ridiculous.

    Chances are the civil suit will be whittled down to nothing.  They need to PAY.

    Then, as another poster suggested, let them get the hell out.  Olerud would be the perfect neighbor for them.

  • Mike November 17, 2016 (6:49 am)

    Since they don’t feel the need to provide the city with restitution for land and trees and further possible landslide damages, they city should use public domain and take their homes for public use needs.  I think we need a park there.  Anyone up for a petition to use public domain and take their homes?

  • d November 17, 2016 (7:23 am)

    Public domain would force the city to pay for the homes what they really need to do is confiscate  the homes in lieu of payment for all the damages and send them to jail…

  • Mark November 17, 2016 (8:00 am)

    The City has a double standard.  Tree cutters, I agree what they did is wrong, being charged and held accountable.  Where is the City when people illegally camp and litter?  The City needs to also hold these people accountable.  This is a blatant double standard that needs to stop.  All criminals and illegal acts need to be enforced equally.  

    If someone litters they need to be fined.  Tree cutters are being held accountable yet many people who litter pay no fines.

    Very unjust!

  • Rusty November 17, 2016 (10:48 am)

    Since this city gets to pick and choose what laws we follow (as Mark said about illegally camping on public property + our dear Mayor’s claim that Seattle will remain a ‘sanctuary city’), why is anyone complaining? I’m not sure I understand the logic here – if we as a city (and the feds as well w/DACA, etc.) can simply choose not to pay attention to some laws, then why should we be forced to pay attention to others?

    That slippery slope isn’t below those trees, it’s in all of your arguments – ‘take away their houses’, ‘make them move out of the community’, yet you have no problem at all with other folks who have broken the law (public campers, illegal aliens). My wife spent over 7 years and thousands of dollars to come into this country and become a citizen legally, because we follow the laws. If you don’t like them, change them – but don’t act high and mighty on one issue and the opposite on another.

  • anonyme November 17, 2016 (3:56 pm)

    There is absolutely no reason to believe that the folks who think the tree cutting needs to be severely punished think that it’s fine to break other laws – just not this one.  Hogwash.  It could just be that they have enough self control to limit themselves to the topic at hand.  The story being responded to is about the trees, not homeless camping, illegal aliens, littering, or global injustice.  And the ‘reasoning’ asserting that if some laws are not fully enforced, then none should be….seriously?

  • TheKing November 17, 2016 (7:12 pm)

    I agree with Rusty and Mark. You can’t just pick and choose laws to be enforced. It’s not finger pointing, it’s a simple matter of enforce all laws or take them off the books. Fair is fair as the liberal folks like to say.

  • treelover November 17, 2016 (11:47 pm)

    Plant more trees, lower growth ones, and be done with it.

  • GATEWOOD November 18, 2016 (7:58 am)

    If you honestly believe a couple of rich, white people will be spending time in prison for cutting city trees, you need to get out more. They’ll probably settle the case by paying a big fine and living with the public shame as they should. The rampant entitlement in our culture has become normalized and tacitly accepted. Enough!

  • Rusty November 18, 2016 (11:13 am)

    Anonyme –

    You must have misread my post. I was merely pointing out the failing logic of trying to pick and choose what laws to enforce. You can never justify it – and yet such a large portion of this city supports the ‘sanctuary city’ status and / or heaven forbid enforcing any public camping / littering laws (we apparently always want the carrot, never the stick) in dealing with the homeless issue. Then along come some entitled jerks cutting down trees and it’s ‘get the pitchforks’  time – take their homes, run them out of town…

    So – do you support our ‘sanctuary city’ status? Do you support enforcing public camping / littering laws (along with offering support services of course)? Do you really think it’s ‘hogwash’ that a lot of Seattle residents are ok with ignoring the law in those instances, but not in ones that they ‘agree’ with?

    Just think about it – not trying to call you or anyone out, just want folks to maybe start thinking in a larger sense about what kind of society we have when we are no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of men/women – because if we keep trying to pick and choose what laws should be ignored, it’s not going to turn out well. That, and some of the posts above were starting to sound like the angry mob – and that never turns out well either.

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