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Court hears arguments on Tutor Perini hotel

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Nevada Supreme Court justices sought common ground Tuesday but found sharp differences remaining between lawyers arguing the fate of a flawed hotel at the CityCenter development on the Las Vegas Strip.

An attorney for property owner MGM Resorts International used his last moments arguing before the justices to point to an April 25 letter in which a consultant for general contractor Tutor Perini Corp. told Clark County building code enforcers that recent testing on structural elements has made the Harmon Hotel tower unsafe to repair.

“Now there is no dispute between experts,” Mark Ferrario, the lawyer representing MGM Resorts, said as time expired.

Attorney George Ogilvie, representing Tutor Perini, didn’t have a chance to answer Ferrario before the five justices who heard the case adjourned the hearing with a promise to rule in the weeks ahead.

But Ogilvie later told The Associated Press that he didn’t agree with what Ferrario said. He declined additional comment.

MGM Resorts and subsidiary CitiCenter Land LLC want the structure torn down even before a jury hears a nearly $500 million construction defect lawsuit next January. The company points to a consultant’s April 2011 report that the building could collapse in a strong earthquake.

The Harmon tower (center left) is shown at the construction site of CityCenter in Las Vegas. The Nevada Supreme Court is hearing arguments about a flawed hotel tower designed to be the centerpiece of MGM Resorts International’s glittery CityCenter development on the Las Vegas Strip. (AP File Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Tutor Perini, the parent company of Black River Falls, Wis.-based Lunda Construction Co., argues that demolition would destroy evidence of good work and leave the impression in jurors’ minds that the builder was at fault.

The ending punctuated oral arguments that began with Perini lawyers arguing that MGM Resorts has improperly shielded from public disclosure documents showing the use of public relations firms to shape discussion about the fate of the 26-story curved blue glass Harmon tower.

“They’re massaging the media to get the public opinion against Perini,” attorney Jeffrey Silvestri said. “CityCenter is trying to taint the jury pool.”

Attorney Alexander Robertson IV, representing MGM Mirage Design Group and CityCenter Land LLC, said competent attorneys sometimes rely on advice, impressions and strategies offered by non-lawyer media relations experts. He said the result can properly remain confidential.

The Harmon was to have been the 48-story centerpiece of the glittery $8.5 billion CityCenter project that opened in December 2009. The complex features several hotels, condominiums, a casino and an upscale shopping and restaurant complex. It is owned by MGM Resorts and Dubai World.

The Harmon stands instead empty at the entrance of the 67-acre master-planned development. It has found use as a giant building-wrap advertisement.

The justices who heard the Harmon demolition case in Las Vegas are being asked to decide a narrow legal question: Whether Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez properly determined that tests that tore into parts of the 26-story Harmon Hotel tower to gauge structural integrity met the state’s legal standards to let experts extrapolate conclusions about the rest of the building.

The high court is also being asked whether Gonzalez improperly sanctioned MGM Resorts for failing to randomly choose test sites.

Gonzalez last summer approved demolition, then withdrew permission in December pending another round of destructive testing.

Justice James Hardesty took the unusual step of trying several times to elicit agreements from Ferrario and Ogilvie to narrow the scope of the dispute to issues best handled with routine disclosures before trial.

At one point, it appeared that the two sides agreed on most points, with fees and costs yet to be determined.

But Ferrario stepped back to the podium at the end to say MGM Resorts still seeks a ruling on whether Gonzalez abused judicial authority by rejecting testimony from a CityCenter structural engineering consultant and refusing to allow the extrapolation question to be raised at trial.

“This is a classic battle of experts that should have been heard in front of a jury,” Ferrario said.

Gonzalez has a status conference in the case scheduled for Friday in Las Vegas.

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