Seattle landlord claims district published libelous news story

WASHINGTON — A Seattle couple has filed a libel lawsuitagainst the Seattle School District over a student newspaper story.

Hugh and Martha Sisley claim in their lawsuit that The RooseveltNews at Roosevelt High School “published a false and libelousstatement about Hugh Sisley.”

The suit concerns a statement in a May 2009 story about a neighborhoodassociation meeting in which there was a discussion of rezoning theSisleys’ property near Roosevelt High, said Jeffrey Freimund, the schooldistrict’s attorney. The story said Hugh Sisley had been accused of racistrenting practices, Freimund said.

The Sisleys’ attorney, Jeffrey Grant of the Seattle law firmSkellenger Bender, did not return multiple calls for comment.

The Sisleys ask for a retraction and written apology, as well asattorneys’ fees and unspecified damages, according to the complaint.

Freimund said the case, which was filed in King County Superior Court inMarch, is in its early stages, but he feels confident about the schooldistrict’s position.

“Truth is a defense to defamation and [the student journalist] wasjust accurately reporting a prior accusation made by somebody else,” hesaid. “And that’s not a basis for claiming damages.”

Freimund cited several other newspapers’ stories about Keith Gilbert,a former property manager for the Sisleys.

Gilbert is a founder of the Socialist Nationalist Aryan People’s Party andhas been convicted of several race-related crimes, according to a February 2005story in the Seattle Times.

“They’re going to have a hard row to hoe of saying that theirreputation has been blemished given the state of their reputation in thecommunity,” he said.

The school district will also argue that the district is not liable forcontent published in The Roosevelt News, Freimund said.

“There’s a significant question there about whether the SeattleSchool District can be sued for a students’ exercise of a First Amendmentright in speaking out in a school publication,” he said.