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American Shipper

Seattle port wants to pay for employee legal fees during fed inquiry

Seattle port wants to pay for employee legal fees during fed inquiry

Seattle port commissioners next week will consider paying the legal defense fees of any port employees potentially caught up in an ongoing U.S. Justice Department fraud probe of port capital projects.

   The move, permissible under Washington state law, mirrors past action by the port in picking up the legal tab for employees involved in work-related litigation.

   Port officials said in taking the move, it hoped to absolve port employees of the financial burden of legal representation created by their employment with the port. The port said it would provide legal representation for port employees during any interviews with federal investigators, though no interviews have yet taken place or been requested.

   However, port officials said employees who acted outside of their duties or in violation of the law would not be covered.

   The Justice Department investigation was announced last month following a state audit of the port's construction project procedures that found the port had violated state contracting laws, misled the port's commissioners, and squandered $97 million in taxpayer money.

   According to past statements by port officials, the audit implicated only a small number of port employees. The port has told all its employees to cooperate fully with the federal investigation.

   Port employees may hire their own attorney, but the port is only offering to cover services provided by Seattle white-collar criminal defense attorney Jon Zulauf.

   The port administration, according to the Seattle Times, has hired the $400-per-hour Seattle law firm of Danielson Harrigan Leyh and Tollefson, in addition to a lawyer from Yarmuth Wilsdon Calfo.

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