NEW ORLEANS – An Orleans Civil District judge exceeded her authority earlier this week when she ordered the president of a development company suing the city over the former World Trade Center to submit to deposition, a defense attorney said in an interview with the Louisiana Record.
"This result seems to fly in the face of longstanding Louisiana civil procedure," Charline K. Gipson, an attorney with the New Orleans Davillier Law Group, said. "The court’s order has far-reaching implications, and we look forward to its equal application to out-of-state, non-parties of Carpenter & Company Inc., Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc. and other interested parties in the litigation with pertinent testimony."
Gipson's firm represents Two Canal Street Investors (TCSI).
Carpenter & Company of Massachusetts and Jones Lang LaSalle, based in Chicago, are named defendants in separate lawsuits Two Canal Street Investors filed over its losing bid to develop the former World Trade Center. The latest lawsuit was filed late last month by Two Canal Street Investors in Orleans Civil District Court against members of the real estate consulting team who advised the city in that process. The named defendants in that case are the Stone Pigman law firm, attorneys Scott Whittaker and Angela Crowder, consulting firm Jones Lang Lasalle, and consultants Greg Hartmann and Judd Stensrud.
The other lawsuit, in which Carpenter & Company is a named defendant, is scheduled to go to trial in the same court Oct. 24.
Orleans Civil District Judge Tiffany Chase issued a decision on Tuesday ordering Two Canal Street Investors President Stuart "Neil" Fisher to submit to deposition. Fisher, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, has for months dodged deposition in the lawsuit challenging the city of New Orleans' development of the former World Trade Center.
Fisher has 30 days to comply, according to Chase's decision, though Gipson said Fisher is considering his options.
"Mr. Fisher and his personal counsel are still considering whether the circumstances justify a writ application to review the court’s ruling," Gipson said.
It is not clear who Fisher's personal counsel might be. Chase's decision was handed down over objections by Two Canal Street Investors attorneys.
Fisher is not a named plaintiff, or visibly and directly involved in the case. That means, theoretically, Fisher cannot be forced to appear in Louisiana for deposition before attorneys who represent the developers who did get the city's nod to convert the former World Trade Center into a Four Seasons hotel.
In any case, calling upon Fisher to be deposed in Louisiana is beyond the court's authority, Gipson said.
"As we expressed during oral argument on the Motion to Compel the deposition of an out-of-state, non-party to Two Canal Street Investors Inc.’s litigation, the court’s order exceeds its authority on a fundamental jurisdictional basis," she said. "Counsel for TCSI never objected to Mr. Fisher being deposed, but only maintained that Mr. Fisher’s Florida counsel was the appropriate party with whom to schedule that testimony. Under this ruling, a non-party officer, director or even a certain type of employee living in Illinois, Massachusetts or Singapore could be held in contempt of court for not appearing in Louisiana for a deposition– all without a subpoena."
The development of New Orleans' 33-story World Trade Center, located on the riverfront, was leased last year to the development team led by Carpenter & Company and Woodward Interests of New Orleans.
Chase has said she may order New Orleans to scrap the 99-year lease granted to Four Seasons and restart its search for a developer, but that she could not award the bid to Two Canal Street Investors. She also has said, however, that Four Seasons may move ahead with the project as the case progresses, which Four Seasons officials say they plan to do.
Last winter, a city-appointed committee, New Orleans Building Corp., considered proposals from five national and local hotel-residential developers. Acting on analyst reports that said the Four Seasons' proposal would provide the city with the greatest economic benefit, committee members selected Four Seasons New Orleans' $360 million proposal for the riverfront property. The proposal includes a Four Seasons hotel and condominiums by Carpenter & Co. and Woodward Interests.
The proposal by Two Canal Street Investors, partnered with Woodbine Development Corp. of Dallas, Monday Properties of New York and Washington D.C., and Valencia Hotel Group, was for a $228 million renovation of the World Trade Center. That proposal would have included the 318-room Hotel Alessandra and 240 apartments.
Two Canal Street Investors maintains its bid should have prevailed because it offered the highest rent payments to the city. For its part, the city claims that Four Seasons' proposal will bring in greater economic benefit above and beyond rents paid to the city.