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Kshama Sawant could face defamation lawsuit

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant. (AP)
LISTEN: Seattle landlord files defamation suit against Seattle City Council

A Seattle man who filed a $25 million defamation lawsuit against the Seattle City Council plans to file a separate lawsuit against Councilmember Kshama Sawant, his attorney told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

The man, Carl Haglund, became the center of a high-profile argument for tenant rights after he raised the rent at his 13-room apartment building by hundreds of dollars. Haglund was accused of curtailing tenant relocation assistance from the property, which was in dire need of repairs. After city inspectors found the building was in violation of more than 200 housing code regulations, Sawant introduced a law prohibiting landlords from raising rents for buildings that do not meet basic maintenance standards. The council unanimously passed the legislation in June 2016.

RELATED: Sawant: Seattle housing crisis ‘not a question of ideology’ but of ‘reality’

“The city council has the responsibility to make every legal avenue possible for tenants to defend their rights,” Councilmember Sawant said at the time.

“This really is the Carl Haglund law.”

Brad Andersen, who represents Carl Haglund, said Haglund is a private citizen who did not ask to be a part of the legislation and is being painted as a villain. Haglund gave 60 days’ notice of the rent hike, and Andersen noted the building passed a previous inspection. Andersen believes his client’s privacy rights have been violated both by the council and by Sawant.

“The fact is that every private citizen has a right to their name, their identity,” Andersen said.

“It’s a privacy right. And Carl Haglund is a private person. He’s in the real estate business, and he has a right to continue to be a private person. But the reason we are bringing the claim against the city is because the city has chosen to use Carl Haglund, and refer to him as the ‘notorious slumlord,’ which we don’t agree with. But they’re using his identity to pursue their own agenda without his consent.”

Andersen confirms Haglund plans to file a lawsuit against Sawant personally.

While Haglund’s property was found to be in violation of Seattle housing codes, and his actions were criticized by multiple outlets, the lawsuit raises an interesting question about the role private citizens play in highly-publicized conversations. Key to this discussion is a question about the use of public power by government officials: Even if you agree with the legislation, is it fair for a powerful public body to call out private citizens by name?

It’s a question that’s been asked by both sides of the aisle. CNN, for example, was accused of blackmailing a private Reddit user in a move criticized by multiple journalists. On a larger scale, President Donald Trump has been criticized for using the case of a private citizen, Kathryn Steinle, in public debates about “Kate’s bill” and illegal immigration (Steinle’s parents told The San Francisco Chronicle they support the law but would prefer their daughter’s name be kept out).

Andersen understands it’s not uncommon for legislation to be named for private citizens, but cannot recall a case wherein a private person was negatively associated with a law. “I’ve just never seen it before and I think it’s wrong.”

In a statement, Sawant said her office “refuses to be intimidated” by the upcoming lawsuit.

“I guess it’s who can beat the punch about who can be the biggest victim,” Andersen said of Sawant’s response.

“It just blows me away that now she’s trying to claim that she’s the victim and Carl Haglund can bully her. She has the power of government, and when you have that power it’s a privilege, and you cannot abuse that power by using that power to bully people. And that’s exactly what she’s done here. Whether she has good causes, I don’t care. You wear a different hat when you’re a government official. You can’t go out gunning for private citizens.

“Carl Haglund is a private business person who has never consented or wanted to be a part of the public discussion, and she has decided to make him a public discussion, going so far as to name a law after him without his consent. That’s what this case is all about.”

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