The other day, it occurred to me that I’ve never seen so many local elected officials being sued at the same time.
Right now, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly all face lawsuits—each of them filed by constituents who are representing themselves.
It’s not a coincidence. More and more, the city and county’s most vocal critics aren’t willing to stop at criticism. They want a judge to agree on their gripes—and they sometimes even succeed.
With that in mind, here’s a look at where the lawsuits stand, and what they might lead to.
Seth Woolley v Loretta Smith
In the suit that probably has the best chance of effecting change, local activist Woolley is hoping a judge will force Smith out of her job.
At issue is a provision in the county charter that says elected officials need to resign from office if they begin “running” for another elected office before the final year of their term.
As the Mercury has reported, Smith began a campaign for City Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s seat last year, creating a website and hiring campaign staff. Woolley says that’s enough to force her from office. In a filing last week, Smith argued that only filing for office would have triggered the need to resign.
Both parties had a conference call with a judge last week, but have yet to meet in court.
Joe Walsh v City of Portland, Ted Wheeler, and the Portland Police Bureau
A longtime local activist, septuagenarian Walsh has had success using the court system in the past. In 2015, a federal lawsuit he filed against city officials wound up stopping Mayor Charlie Hales from excluding disruptive people from public meetings for extended periods of time.
This one’s a bit different. In a federal lawsuit filed in November, Walsh says city cops trampled his right to free speech when they used tear gas and flashbangs to scatter him and other demonstrators in Lownsdale Square during a heated protest on June 4, 2017.
Walsh said he was doing nothing wrong, and is asking that cops be disallowed from using “chemical warfare” on citizens. The city has asked a judge to dismiss the case.
(Based on police actions that day, Wheeler is also named in a lawsuit by the ACLU of Oregon.)
Mimi German v Chloe Eudaly
German, like Walsh, is a fixture at City Council meetings, but the source of her ire is online.
In late December, German filed suit over Eudaly’s personal Facebook page. She argues the commissioner violated her rights by ridiculing German on that page. Eudaly has also refused to turn over copies of exchanges from her personal Facebook account, saying only her separate profile as a public official qualifies as a public record.
It’s not the first time Eudaly’s Facebook use has drawn scrutiny. Last year, officials looked into the commissioner’s use of the social networking site after Eudaly used her personal profile to criticize local journalists’ coverage of her.
German’s asking a judge to stop Eudaly from using Facebook like this. On March 2, Eudaly filed a motion to dismiss the case.