Fighting words

Is Paul Trummel a crusading journalist or the neighbor from hell?

AS A WEEK-TO-WEEK resident of Motel 6 in Renton, 65-year-old Paul Trummel is not so much homeless as exiled. The onetime London journalist was booted out of the 163-unit nonprofit Council House residence for seniors on Capitol Hill in a legal action that backfired: Trummel had charged management with harassment, but a county judge found Trummel to be the guilty party. He was barred from returning to his subsidized room at the 17th Avenue retirement facility, founded in the '70s by the League of Jewish Women and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Management claims that Trummel was an agitator, stirring up elderly residents with false claims of corruption and discrimination that he published in a newsletter also available on the Internet. Trummel says he's been a card-carrying journalist for 40 years and based his complaints on diligent, accurate research. He is now out on his butt, he says, for exercising his freedom of speech as a resident and writer. Trummel is filing an appeal next week and hopes to win back the right to occupy the room where he is still paying rent.

"There's no doubt whatsoever they violated my constitutional rights," says Trummel, a U.S. resident since 1965 with what he describes as a background in muckraking, academia, and running a communications company prior to semiretiring and moving into Council House a few years ago. "The documents I obtained threatened various [management] people, and they had to strike back, even if unconstitutionally."

Some residents helped Trummel retrieve some of his goods (his dog died during the move) as he relocated to the Renton motel, where he pays $278 a week. He has signed statements from more than 40 residents supporting him and is getting donations from them. "It's money just out of the blue," the pensioner says.

Attorney Bob Siegel, now aiding Trummel, calls the court's ruling "a draconian order" that "completely disregards any and all of Paul's constitutional rights and visits an extreme hardship on an elderly gentleman for no legitimate reason."

Siegel filed a 12-page motion for reconsideration, but King County Superior Court Judge James Doerty turned it down last month. Among its points was First Amendment protection. Freelance journalist and Christian Science Monitor contributor Dean Patton, who supports Trummel, argues "that the rights to free expression and publication enjoyed by, and protected for, Mr. Trummel's newsletter are no less than those enjoyed by The New York Times. . . ."

COUNCIL HOUSE manager Stephen Mitchell says Trummel "has terrorized this community for almost two years" and has no right to distribute his literature in the "private" building. (Mitchell feels that Trummel also may have violated a court order by talking to me and told me he was informing his attorneys of such.) Earlier in court, Mitchell told a judge that Trummel's harassment included: "offensive and defamatory newsletters and statements about Council Hall staff and residents. . . . He had ignited numerous groundless investigations of Council House by government agencies, including HUD, with the intent to distract [Mitchell and residents]."

Mitchell says Trummel is rude and intimidating and makes baseless charges against residents, too. "Many residents are afraid of Mr. Trummel and fear becoming a target of his written and oral attacks," Mitchell says. "Simply put, Mr. Trummel believes that his former position as a journalist, of which he is justly proud, somehow gives him the right and the license to be abusive and hurtful [to others]."

In April, Council House—overseen by a 15-member board and represented by Short Cressman, one of the city's top law firms—squashed Trummel in court, where he was defending himself. Among other points, the lawyers argued that Trummel was not really a journalist because he had no editor or publisher (Trummel argued that he was his own editor and publisher for both his newsletter and Web site.)

Judge Doerty discounted the journalist's claim and felt no free-speech issue was involved. He ruled against Trummel and, attorneys say, invited opposing counsel to seek an anti-harassment order against Trummel. Doerty then signed it, permanently preventing Trummel from ever coming within 500 feet of Council House.

Trummel concedes he's a quarrelsome critic. "I try to make my point pointedly," he says of his newsletter, Disconnections (the Council House newsletter is called Connections). Disconnections is featured on Trummel's Web site (www.contracabal.org), along with screeds on academic fraud including allegations that University of Washington hackers crashed his site in retaliation (the UW had no comment). His writing has sharp edges, as seen in these examples from the offending newsletter:

*"Residents must remove the pandering pygmies that have appointed themselves officers of the self-serving glee club that poses as a residents' council. They must replace this phony association with a registered residents' association using the HUD model. . . ."

*"Despite . . . repeated warnings about feeding pigeons, several gullible residents continue to feed the resident stool pigeons with information instead of keeping their own counsel. . . ."

*"Recently, about two hundred nonresidents held a bar mitzvah in the combined dining room and lounge. They held a religious ritual that some residents found distasteful and imposed their exclusive criteria upon all residents. By that they violated federal law. . . ."

*"Saturday, a great shadow descended over the laundry room as an obese woman clad only in a sheer nylon nightdress lumbered in. This grotesque apparition contrasted greatly with the woman present at the time. . . . If Mitchell doubts these statements then he should take this specter home for the weekend. His failure to enforce the house dress code deserves that type of punishment. . . . "

Trummel also penned complaints about ongoing noise, lack of maintenance, drunken residents, the house eatery (which he dubbed "Ptomaine Grotto"), and racial issues. One item in particular that may have grated on management was about the search for a new administrator: "They voiced concerns about advertising nationally because it would result in black people applying for the position and conspired to exclude them. . . . By planning to manipulate employment criteria they violated both the spirit and intent of federal equal opportunity laws."

Officials deny such a plan. One Council House official, who notes that Rep. Jim McDermott's mother is a House resident, says "We've been under a federal investigation and [been] looked at many times by state agencies and never had a problem." (HUD had no comment.) On April 19, Doerty issued his anti- harassment order banning Trummel from contacting anyone at Council House "in person, by mail, electronically, by telephone, by writing or through any third person. . . ."

Manager Mitchell says the Trummel saga has given Council House a bad rap. "We are so proud of what we do here," he says. "This is wonderful housing with tremendous views, where residents can pay as little as $150 a month." He plans to begin eviction proceedings against Trummel. "What I wish for Paul Trummel is that he would just move on."

Trummel is still banking on the forthcoming appeal. "I believe I will win," he says in his crowded temporary quarters at Motel 6. "More people than ever are now being harassed at Council House. I must get back there. I have a job to finish."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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