The city of Seattle will pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit by the former foster son of ex-Mayor Ed Murray, who had accused Murray of misusing his official position to defame the man while fighting accusations of decades-old sexual abuse that led to the mayor’s resignation last year.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement Monday the negotiated settlement with Jeff Simpson allows the city to avoid the uncertainty and expense of a trial, “which helps limit further financial exposure of the taxpayer. I wish Mr. Simpson nothing but the best, and I hope this settlement allows him to move forward.”
In an interview, Simpson said he sees the settlement as a vindication and a blessing.
“My gosh. I am so grateful. I didn’t think it would be possible. Everybody told us it would not be possible,” he said. “To me, as a survivor and a victim of a sexual predator who was a powerful person, God does answer prayers.”
It’s the second settlement — both covered exclusively by taxpayers — arising from the scandal that ended Murray’s political career. Last December, the city agreed to pay $150,000 to Delvonn Heckard, a Kent man who had sued claiming Murray raped and abused him decades ago. Heckard was found dead months later of an accidental drug overdose.
Simpson’s lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court in May, said Murray and his allies had wrongfully used public resources to defame, including by raising his past criminal record and claiming he was making false accusations as part of a right-wing conspiracy. It said Murray and other city leaders had negligently refused to investigate Simpson’s claims of abuse, as well as those of other men, allowing Murray to remain in office for months while continuing to denigrate his accusers.
Cheryl Snow, Simpson’s attorney, called the settlement “a victory on the defamation lawsuit that shows you can’t make comments, you can’t talk about a victim in this way.”
Steve Fogg, an attorney for Murray, said the relatively small settlement merely ended a baseless lawsuit.
“He (Murray) didn’t pay anything, and he didn’t admit to anything. He didn’t do anything wrong. He never defamed Mr. Simpson. He never harmed him in any way,” Fogg said. “75,000 dollars is 75,000 more than Mr. Simpson deserved, but (it was) less than the lawyer fees that would have been required to obtain dismissal.”
“My client is a former CEO of the city government, so he understands the business necessity of a nuisance settlement, which is exactly what this is,” Fogg said.
Simpson initially had sought in excess of $1 million in damages when he filed a tort claim as a precursor to his lawsuit.
Snow acknowledged the case may have been difficult to prove at trial, but noted the settlement agreement covers only Murray’s conduct while mayor and does not relinquish Simpson’s legal right to sue over the underlying allegations of sexual abuse if statute of limitations laws are changed.
Simpson, a married father and recovering addict who lives in Gladstone, Oregon, said he intends to seek such changes to the law there. “If anybody has ever had a friend or a family member raped or sexually abused, they’ll know how ridiculous the statute of limitations is,” he said.
A decade ago, Simpson sought to pursue a lawsuit against Murray, then a state legislator, but his attorney at the time withdrew from the case, citing Oregon’s law barring lawsuits after so much time had elapsed.
It was unclear Monday exactly how much of the settlement money will go to Simpson. Both he and Snow, his attorney, said details were being worked out. But Snow said her firm wanted to see most of the money go to Simpson.
Simpson’s allegations that Murray raped and molested him in Portland during the early 1980s, including when Simpson lived with him as a foster son, were bolstered by an Oregon state administrative finding that Murray committed the alleged abuse.
Records once thought destroyed were released to the Seattle Times last July and showed an Oregon Child Protective Services’ caseworker who investigated Simpson’s claims in 1984 found “Jeff Simpson has been sexually abused by … Edward Murray.” The finding led authorities to state that Murray should never again be licensed as a foster parent in Oregon.
Murray was not charged with a crime; a Multnomah County prosecutor cited difficulties pressing the case, but wrote it wasn’t because authorities doubted Simpson’s story.
Murray, a former state senator who was elected mayor in 2013, has repeatedly denied the claims by Simpson and four other men who accused him of sexual abuse — including his cousin, whose allegations made public by the Seattle Times last September caused Murray to resign from office the same day.
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