Longtime Seattle landlord Drake Sisley has sued Seattle Public Schools for what he alleges is a libelous and defamatory article that was published in the Roosevelt High School newspaper back in March 2009.
The lawsuit (.pdf), filed in King County Superior Court yesterday, claims that the article "Sisley Slums Cause Controversy" (.pdf) portrays Sisley in a "false, defamatory, libelous, and malicious" light, damaging his reputation. Apart from owning property in Roosevelt District, Sisley has run as a Republican candidate for city and county councils.
SPS spokesperson Teresa Wippel said that the district couldn't comment because it hasn't seen the lawsuit yet.
"Mr. Sisley is upset because a similar article was published in 2003 in the same newspaper and he called the school and complained about it, but then this article was published several years later and it's completely false," said Ray Siderius, the attorney representing the Sisleys. "He is suing for it to be stopped. The article was very damaging, very bad. He wants the district to pay for damages."
Siderius said that they decided to sue the school district instead of student reporter Emily Shugerman who wrote the article, which talks about the proposed redevelopment of neglected property around Roosevelt High School.
What makes this case interesting is that a quick Google search on Drake Sisley brings up newspaper articles describing him as owning several problem properties near Roosevelt High School along with his brother Hugh. Specifically, an April 1999 article in the Seattle Weekly talks about the "small empire" of Drake and Hugh Sisley, who owned 54 properties in the Roosevelt area and received 80 citations since 1990 for land use code violations.
"But see those properties are owned by his brother, [Drake] doesn't own those properties," Siderius said when asked about the article in the Weekly. "These articles keep making that mistake. He has little property but they are not anything related to the ones mentioned in these articles."
The lawsuit specifically objects to the following statements from the Roosevelt News article:
Drake Sisley and Hugh Sisley are infamous landlords.
Rundown houses owned by infamous landlords Drake and Hugh Sisley are "Sisley Slums."
Drake Sisley has been accused of racist renting policies.
Drake Sisley has a bad reputation among local and city officials.
The Roosevelt area properties which are crack shacks and ghetto houses are properties owned by the Sisley brothers.
The lawsuit claims that Sisley does not "own, manage, or have anything to do" with the properties mentioned in the article and blames Roosevelt's Principal Brian Vance and Roosevelt News faculty advisors for failing to verify the statements.
Calls to Roosevelt's Assistant Principal Christina Anderson (Vance is out today) were not returned.
Hugh Sisley sued the school district back in 2010 over the same high school article, but Wippel said the district couldn't comment on that either because of ongoing litigation.