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City of Seattle could pay more than $300,000 to defend Council member Kshama Sawant

SEATTLE — One Seattle City Council member is about to cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Kshama Sawant is at the center of two defamation lawsuits.

Both lawsuits claim Sawant used her platform to ruin people’s reputations with her rhetoric.

And the city of Seattle is choosing to defend Sawant in one of the cases it’s not even named in.

A protest from February 2016 is now in the center of a lawsuit against Sawant. Two Seattle police officers -- Scott Miller and Michael Spaulding -- are suing Sawant, claiming she defamed them by unjustly calling them murderers after they shot and killed a man named Che Taylor, who, the officers said, was reaching for a gun in a car when they opened fire.

The lawsuit says Sawant accused the officers of racial profiling, calling them murderers repeatedly.

“Sawant continued defaming the officers, with particular emphasis immediately before their inquest hearing, and does so even to this day - despite the officers having been cleared by an impartial jury.”

The officers are only suing Sawant, not the city, saying they don’t want a cent of taxpayer dollars.

But City Council President Bruce Harrell decided the city would defend Sawant anyway.

In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, he writes, “Regardless of whether one thinks her statements were irresponsible or even defamatory to the police officers who no doubt have families and friends disturbed by the statements, Councilmember Sawant was engaged in communication that was a clear extension of her office.”

Harrell says his decision is about the law, not politics.

“While many may not agree with what Councilmember Sawant has to say, I believe we must defend her right to say it. That is the cost of free speech.”

And the cost is growing. This is the second lawsuit against Sawant.

The first suit came from landlord Carl Haglund, who sued the city and named Sawant specifically, saying she abusively declared him a "slumlord."

It could cost the city more than $300,000 to represent Sawant in both lawsuits.

The City Attorney's Office says they will use outside attorneys for both cases. They say their attorneys have too many cases and don’t have anyone who specializes in defamation cases.