On Friday, Judge McDermott presided over the final stages of the K&S lawsuit against the City of SeaTac. The results reflect poorly on the City of SeaTac senior staff, legal counsel, and the planning department. In summary, including jury verdict award, interest, and legal fees, the Kingen family was awarded $18.3 million (a new Washington State record for land use jury verdicts). Additionally, the judge made the unusual recommendation that formal sanctions be made against the City of SeaTac’s attorneys who colluded with SeaTac planning staff in a pattern of deception, dishonesty, and violation of the law in order to destroy the Kingen’s commercial property value so that the City of SeaTac could take their property from the Kingens for the city staff’s own central planning schemes.
I have written several articles here and here detailing what appears to be a serious staff infection at the City of SeaTac. It has been clearly pointed out that SeaTac’s senior legal counsel, Mary Bartolo was providing inaccurate and misleading information to the SeaTac City Council. It appears these articles were not harsh or clear enough. The truth is far worse than anyone has realized. Here is what the judge says:
“A government entity owes a duty of honesty and transparency to those people to whom they deal with…The City (of SeaTac) violated that duty so many times I’ve lost count,…it’s amazing. Quite frankly, the actions of the City of SeaTac in this case are unexplainable and totally unacceptable. The period of deception even lasted through their answer in the public records…I find this to be the worst thing about this case is the actions of the City and how dishonest they were and I find that to be completely and totally unacceptable.” (p46-47 Transcript K&S vs. SeaTac hearing July 8, 2016)
In case that wasn’t clear enough, here is another quote, and if you want to listen to the judge actually make these statements, you can listen here as well
“I also want to make sure that there is no mistake on the part of the defendants or the plaintiff that the City engaged in a pattern of deception that lasted years, and because of that, the Kingens’ damages are not just limited to losing the property…” (p45 K&S vs. SeaTac July 8, 2016)
SeaTac’s staff infection and central planning scheme leads to $18.3 million loss to the city
For a complete review of the findings of fact, I have attached documents at the end of this article. However, the summary of this case is basically as follows:
A land developer (K&S) owned a piece of Land in SeaTac in 2004. They want to build a parking garage. The Central Planning Staff at the City of SeaTac decide they don’t want a parking garage there, but they keep this to themselves, and keep changing the rules for the property owner. City legal staff goes along with the deception aiding and abetting the scheme. The City decides they want the land for their own project, and they keep this secret too. The City staff also wants to partner with another parking garage company, and they don’t want the Kingens to be their competition. Eventually, after many years of closing every development door to the property owner, the City of SeaTac is able to force the property owner into financial distress. The city uses a straw buyer (“the guy”) to acquire the debt on the property and secretly threaten to bankrupt the property owner. Under financial stress and other pressures, the property owner is forced to lose the property and only realizes that the same SeaTac staff who were denying their permits for six years were the same people who bought their debt, threatened them, and now owned the property.
At that point the property owner wants to discover the truth and attempts to get public records to see what was really happening. The City fails to comply, hides records, can’t find records, delays, etc. The property owner takes years to get enough records to realize the enormity of the original scam played on them and files a lawsuit against the City of SeaTac. The city tries to claim that the statute of limitations has run its course (so sorry, you waited too long to figure out what we did while we were destroying and hiding records from you). After many years and expenses, the case goes before a Jury in Superior Court, and in January the Jury awarded $9.6 million to the Kingen family. Last Friday, the final step in this decade long experiment in central planning empire building by SeaTac staff was closed and after interest, penalties and legal fees were negotiated, the City of SeaTac is on the hook for $18.3 million.
All this because the City staff, attorneys and to some extent the legacy elected officials decided to play Simcity with other people’s property.
It gets worse – the insurance company may not have to foot the bill
As I wrote about in my last article on this issue, the insurance company has filed a lawsuit against the city, and to quote from that case, once again:
“There is an actual and justiciable controversy as to whether the City is liable based on any criminal, dishonest, or fraudulent acts or omissions that constitute a knowing violation of the rights of another person.”(paragraph 147 insurance company lawsuit against the City of SeaTac alleging why the insurance company refuses to pay the jury verdict against the city)
The City of SeaTac’s legal Counsel Mary Bartolo attempted to claim this was misquoting or mischaracterizing that case. However, Friday’s ruling from the judge in this case makes her effort to deceive and mislead the elected officials or the public that much more difficult. In fact, the City of SeaTac probably needs new legal counsel because sanctions are going to be brought against at least some of these attorneys and they may not be able to practice law when this is done anyway.
For the naive and ignorant who still want to suspend disbelief or who think this is hyperbole, let’s quote from Judge McDermott:
“…the City Attorney’s Office participated in this profound and unacceptable pattern of deception. That violates the rules of professional conduct. That is totally and completely unacceptable to this court… I have never filed a complaint against a lawyer, but I would seriously recommend that you take some advantage to do that, counsel, because that can’t be allowed to exist.” (p.49 K&S vs. SeaTac July 8, 2016)
Judge McDermott does give Mary Bartolo some benefit of the doubt in this excoriation of the legal staff, but she does not deserve it. It defies all reason and logic to believe Mary Bartolo did not approve and supervise the pattern of deception which SeaTac legal counsel abetted and encouraged in their planning department. The best argument that Mary Mirante Bartolo can make is that she was incompetent, knew nothing, and that as a manager she did such a poor job that this pattern of deception happened under her nose for many years and she didn’t know. Either way, the taxpayers of SeaTac are on the hook for $18.3 million and the city desperately needs new legal counsel.
It should be noted that interest will continue on this award throughout the appeal process at 12% per year until it is paid. That is over $6,000 per day, $180,000 per month, $2 million per year that will be added to the $18.3 million. At some point, this becomes real money – even when the bureaucrats and politicians act like it doesn’t really matter.
Long-term City Council member Tony Anderson, one of the few incumbents left on the SeaTac City Council was paid to represent the city throughout the long jury trial. Despite all the evidence he witnessed, when called to the stand and asked if he thought the city staff did anything wrong, he paused for a long time and finally said “No.” The jury disagreed. This illustrates what is wrong in the City of SeaTac. Some elected officials and staff don’t see corruption even when it is presented to them. These are the people who should not be in government.
How many others have been harmed by SeaTac’s staff infection?
The real question that this entire fiasco raises for the citizens of SeaTac and their elected council is just how many other people have had their lives ruined, investments destroyed, and dreams dashed because of staff run amok? It is doubtful that the Kingen family is the only property owner damaged by this behavior. There are many of them, but most of their dreams were successfully crushed by the city staff and schemes. It is hard to beat City Hall. When City Hall is corrupt and dishonest, it gets harder. We are fortunate that Kathy and Gerry Kingen prevailed and has exposed this corruption for all to see. We can only hope this discourages other cities and bureaucrats from doing this to property owners as well.
Fortunately for the taxpayers of SeaTac, there is a bright side to this dark cloud over the city. Voters last November replaced all four incumbents with new elected officials who can turn over a new leaf and bring honesty, transparency, and fiscal responsibility back to the city. While staff have successfully sabotaged the new council’s first city manager, it is possible for the council to recover. Additionally, the council can remove their corrupt and dishonest legal staff. New attorneys are not hard to find. Cleaning up city government is never easy, but it has to start somewhere.
We may never know how many have been harmed in the past or are being harmed right now by this abusive staff, but we can start the healing process by replacing senior city staff and perhaps reminding them that they work for the people and to stop treating the people like the governed…
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…
Source documents and related articles linked below:
Jury Verdict – K&S Verdict Form (note Misrepresentation Claim 1.3 is another term for “Fraud”)
Trial Exhibit 111 – 176th Redevelopment Plan (Power Point Presentation)
City’s Press Release – Jan 2010 (original)
Revised Final Press Release (City Press Release rewritten by K&S to represent their view of the situation)