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Lawyer seeks recall of Seattle City Council president over Murray allegations, head tax

caption: Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell is sworn into office by city clerk Monica Simmons, right, becoming the mayor of Seattle, on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at City Hall.
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Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell is sworn into office by city clerk Monica Simmons, right, becoming the mayor of Seattle, on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at City Hall.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle attorney Lincoln Beauregard says his open records lawsuit has given him ammunition to seek and fund a recall campaign against Seattle City Council president Bruce Harrell.

Beauregard's recall petition claims Harrell violated the state Open Public Meetings Act in orchestrating the city council's response to sexual abuse allegations against former mayor Ed Murray.

Beauregard says Harrell worked with other council members behind the scenes and made conflicting statements about his efforts.

Harrell said he can't comment because Beauregard's claims are related to pending litigation.

“We know for sure Bruce Harrell needs to be recalled based on some of the things that he’s done," Beauregard said. "And we’re going to be taking his deposition next week to see if he basically said some things under oath that weren’t true."

The state’s Open Public Meetings Act requires that legislators conduct their business in public, prohibiting a majority of council members from coordinating behind closed doors. Beauregard’s lawsuit claims that Mayor Jenny Durkan and members of the city council violated the law as they planned to repeal the city’s head tax last May.

As a result of that lawsuit, Beauregard said he obtained documents that point to additional OPMA violations by council members as they confronted sexual abuse allegations against Murray.

Last year, Beauregard sued Mayor Murray, alleging that Murray sexually abused his client Delvonn Heckard in the 1980s. Murray denied the allegations, and Harrell announced the following Monday: “My council colleagues and I have no intention of commenting on matters of pending or potential litigation.”

But Beauregard claims that Harrell consulted with his colleagues about the allegations behind closed doors.

“It’s a violation of the public trust and the Open Public Meetings Act for him to sit back, rally the troops over a weekend, and then just tell the public that they as leaders and the effective supervisor of Ed Murray, have no comment," Beauregard said.

The recall petition says council members including Harrell committed further violations the following July as they deliberated whether to impeach the mayor.

Murray eventually resigned after more men alleging sexual abuse came forward last year. Heckard, Beauregard's client, settled with the city last December, but was found dead of an overdose in an Auburn motel room earlier this year.

Harrell's District 2 seat is up for re-election next year, but Beauregard said he is willing to fund the recall effort before then. Other candidates have said they'll challenge Harrell for his district representing Southeast Seattle.

Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, said a statement on the sexual abuse lawsuit would clearly qualify as “city business” subject to the open meetings law. But he said a judge may find the recall effort against Harrell premature.

Nixon characterized Beauregard's recall efforts as "kind of an uphill climb” without a court having first found violations of the meetings law.

“I’ve heard of OPMA violations in recall petitions – but I’m not sure if that by itself could be the basis for a recall,” Nixon said.

Harrell’s deposition is scheduled for Tuesday, Beauregard said.

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