Seattle files $1.6 million suit after 150 trees cut down on public land

SEATTLE – City attorney Pete Holmes announced Tuesday that Seattle is filing two lawsuits against about three dozen people in connection with 150 trees the city says were improperly cut down on public land.

The city is seeking more than $1.6 million damages and fines ‘on several grounds, including timber trespass, damage to land, trespass, negligence, environmentally critical areas violations, violations of the parks code and violations of the city’s tree and vegetation management in public places code,” Holmes said in a release to the media.

Holmes said there is also a criminal investigation under way.

The suit is directed at six homeowners who are named, and another 30 people who are either homeowners or tree-cutters and are referred to only as Jane and John Does.

All six homeowners who were named live on the same stretch of SW 35th Ave.

Cutting down the trees substantially improved the view from the homes, the suit alleges, and the homeowners didn’t acquire the necessary permits to do so.

The homeowners who are named are Stanley J. and Mary E. Harrelson; Martin E. and Karrie Riemer; and Kostas A. and Linda C. Kyrimis. Forrest Bishop and John Russo are named as the people hired to cut down the trees.

The Seattle Times reported that Martin Riemer is Marty of "Marty and Jodi in the Morning" on 95.7 The Jet.

The city said many of the trees, which included big-leaf maples and Scouler's willows, were on a slope and that their removal increases the danger of a landslide.

Clayton Graham, the attorney for the Harrelson's, released a statement Tuesday afternoon:

We are disappointed by the City Attorney’s decision to file the lawsuit today. Our clients, Stan and Mary Harrelson, deeply regret the tree cutting which happened next to their property. At no point did our clients request, or condone, the extent of the work that was done by the contractor.

The Harrelsons have acknowledged their role in this mistake but the City has been non-responsive to our attempts to reach a settlement in this matter. We believe the damages sought in the suit are excessive, given our clients’ limited role in the cutting that took place. While the lawsuit claims that none of the homeowners has come forward with the full story, our clients have fully cooperated with the City’s efforts since they, themselves, disclosed this work to the City early this year, and hired a former City of Seattle arborist to develop a restoration plan. The Harrelsons remain ready and willing to work with the City to remedy this matter.