NEW ORLEANS – A bill recently signed into law meant to prevent the type of litigation that has stalled development of New Orleans' former World Trade Center is being called unconstitutional by an attorney for the plaintiff in that litigation.
"The misguided legislation appears to be designed to quickly dispense with public lease law court challenges, regardless of their merit or seriousness," Charline K. Gipson, an attorney with the New Orleans Davillier Law Group, wrote in a n email to the Louisiana Record. "It does not allow sufficient time for any meaningful discovery in litigation; thus, it effectively deprives a party asserting valid and significant violations of the law governing public leases of his or her due process rights. Whether this piece of legislation can withstand a constitutional challenge remains to be seen."
Davillier Law Group represents Two Canal Street Investors, one of the developers that lost the bid to develop the former World Trade Center and now is pursuing two lawsuits in which defendants include the city and New Orleans Building Corporation.
Defendants in those cases, who sent representatives to be present when Gov. John Bel Edwards signed SB 447, praised the new legislation.
"With Governor Edwards signature, this legislation will become law and provide public benefit corporations across our state much needed clarity when selecting a developer through a public procurement," New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu's Press Secretary C. Hayne Rainey said in an email to the Louisiana Record. "It is in our public’s best interest that important community development projects not be disrupted by baseless lawsuits that could result in an unreasonable delay of an approved project. As we have stated previously, this has implications beyond just the redevelopment of the former World Trade Center property".
Greg Beuerman, spokesman for the Carpenter-Woodward litigation team, which works with developer Four Seasons New Orleans, concentrated his comments in an email to the Louisiana Record, prior to the signing, on the present World Trade Center development.
"SB 447 is a major step forward for the Four Seasons project and a credit to the Mayor, Governor and legislature and their determination to find solutions to the problem of frivolous, self-serving litigation designed to do nothing more than stall important economic development projects," Beuerman said. "For Carpenter-Woodward and the Four Seasons team, SB 447 means litigating this process will be expedited, perhaps into August instead of late October. Doing so will allow Four Seasons to aggressively move into the construction phase and begin to generate badly needed jobs for local residents who have been eager to see this $400 million project move forward."
SB 447, in its final form, creates narrow time limits for appealing and challenging a bidding process in situations similar to New Orleans' attempt to redevelop the World Trade Center. Those time limits include how quickly such challenges would have to be tried, judgments rendered and appeals court decisions handed down. The bill, in its final form, unanimously passed the Louisiana House June 3 and then passed the Senate June 5.
There could be new developments as a hearing was recently heard before Orleans Civil District Court Judge Ethel Julien. Julien was expected to consider a motion by Two Canal Street Investors owner Stuart C. "Neil" Fisher of Palm Beach, Fla. Fisher claims that Julien's colleague, Orleans Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase, presiding judge the development companies' lawsuits over the World Trade Center development, is biased and has called for her to recuse herself.
In early May, Chase ordered Fisher to appear for deposition. That order was reversed in early June by Louisiana's Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Attorneys for Carpenter-Woodward soon after announced it would ask the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal to reconsider its reversal.
The older of Two Canal Street Investors' two lawsuits challenging the bidding process to redevelop the former World Trade Center currently is scheduled to go to trial in Oct. 24. Development of New Orleans' 33-story former World Trade Center, located on the riverfront, was leased last year to the development team led by Carpenter & Co. of Massachusetts and Woodward Interests of New Orleans.