Eastside Sun's pending lawsuit could cost City of Kirkland millions
April 20, 2010 · 6:49 PM
Last Sunday, a neighborhood barbecue turned into a discussion about the Eastside Sun's pending lawsuit against the City of Kirkland. As a non-practicing attorney, people asked my opinion. My opinion is, one or two dumb city employees are going to cost us millions of dollars.
And it did not have to be that way. I read the Sun and like most people I liked parts of it and disliked others. But it was a newspaper, it was going to eventually go out of business as is the trend of printed news. But now our city employees are going to give the publisher a golden parachute like no other. It won't cost him a cent and he deserves it.
The United States Department of Justice will need to find just one employee of the city making one coercive or threatening statement to one Sun advertiser and if the attorney finds that single instance, then it's over. We have lost the case and are on the hook for millions in damages. And make no mistake, it's not for the lost revenue of the Sun, but rather for blatant violation of the publisher's civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution. Lost revenue might be a few hundred thousand dollars with no punitive damages. Civil liberties violations are often millions.
A Washington State lawsuit cannot have punitive damages, but this is clearly a case under federal jurisdiction. Federal lawsuits can and do have punitive damages equal to three times the initial award. If the court finds the civil liberties violation was worth $2 million, we will have to pay $8 million.
Do you know how much the publisher will pay for his team of highly trained federal prosecutors? Not one red cent. Anyone who thinks legal costs on the part of the plaintiff will stop this case from proceeding is foolish and poorly educated in these matters. The plaintiff will be The United States of America Department of Justice and they have a lot of money, a lot of lawyers and aren't afraid of our legal defense team. When are we going to stop being our our worst enemies? City employees, please think before you act and clear your acts with your city attorney, that's what they are there for.
At this point there is no lawsuit, only a tort complaint. Pray that it goes no further, but if it were my client it would be full steam ahead.
Mark Klein, Kirkland