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Wednesday, August 21, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Crew hired by judge cut down park's trees; city estimates damage at $100,000 to $500,000

Seattle Times staff reporter

Someone has chain-sawed down more than 70 trees at Seattle's Colman Park through the years. Now, Seattle police detectives believe they know who is responsible for the most recent cutting.

Judge Jerome Farris of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lives on the Mount Baker ridge adjoining the park, with a view of Lake Washington. Although a chain-link fence separates Farris' property from the park, Farris didn't realize the crews he hired to trim and prune his trees were doing anything illegal, said the judge's attorney, John Wolfe.

"If you've got a big lot, and you've got trees, you have to have them trimmed and pruned," said Wolfe, who was hired last week. "The work being done he thought was being done in accordance with the law."

Farris, who has also served on the board of the University of Washington, is out of town on vacation and did not oversee any of the cutting, Wolfe said. The judge is officially retired from the 9th Circuit but still carries a caseload, his attorney said.

The case was referred to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, which is deciding whether to charge Farris with malicious mischief, said spokesman Dan Donohoe. The charge could be a felony depending on how much the cut trees are worth.

The Parks and Recreation Department estimates the damage at $100,000 to $500,000, agency spokesman David Takami said.

A city worker discovered the three-quarter-acre area of felled trees in the park during a sewer inspection this month and notified police.

"An arborist suspected that the residents of a home in the 1900 block of 34th Avenue South would stand to have increased views without the trees," Seattle police spokeswoman Deanna Nollette said.

On Aug. 14, a Parks Department employee noticed a crew cutting trees in the same area and called police.

"A detective went out and actually met with the landscaping crew," Nollette said.

The trees had been cut repeatedly, with new growth hacked out of old stumps.

"People are very upset, and we've gotten a lot of calls about this," Takami said. "We are just as upset and continue to be outraged at this kind of action."

Gina Kim: 206-464-2761 or gkim@seattletimes.com.

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