|By Bethany Barnes, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 05, 2013--Nevada Supreme Court justices will have their say in litigation involving the flawed Harmon Hotel tower, even before the case goes to trial in Clark County District Court.
The high court heard arguments on Tuesday in Las Vegas over district court rulings involving the unfinished tower, nestled in the CityCenter development on the Las Vegas Strip. The court didn't issue a ruling after the hearing, and it wasn't immediately clear when a decision might come down.
Both sides brought disputes to Nevada's high court regarding the almost $500 million civil construction-defects lawsuit that will be heard in January in Clark County District Court.
MGM Resorts International, which co-owns CityCenter with Dubai World, is suing the general contractor Tutor Perini Corp. over the hotel's flaws.
CityCenter is challenging a district court order that excluded testimony provided by its engineer. The district court ruled that the engineer's testing was not done randomly enough, making the testimony inadmissible.
An attorney for Tutor Perini argued Tuesday that the district court's decision should be upheld, contending that CityCenter's engineer cherry-picked for defects in order to stack the deck against Tutor Perini and paint a more dire picture of the building as a whole. But an attorney for CityCenter contended its engineer checked areas that were essential to the structure and chose them without knowing they were trouble spots.
Also at issue Tuesday was whether the district court erred in concluding that certain materials sought through discovery were protected under the work-product doctrine.
Tutor Perini demanded that all of the materials held by a public relations firm hired by CityCenter be turned over prior to trial. CityCenter disclosed about 65 percent of the materials but held back about 35 percent that it claimed was covered by the work-product doctrine, which protects materials prepared for upcoming litigation.
Tutor Perini's attorney, Jeff Silvestri, told the justices the only litigation CityCenter's public relations firm was preparing for was the court of public opinion. He said CityCenter was using the firm to portray CityCenter as the "good guy" and Perini as "the scum of the Earth" in the media.
Allowing the materials to be kept secret would encourage lawyers to hire public relations firms to prejudice the judge and jurors before trial, argued Tutor Perini. Justice Michael L. Douglas pointed out that Silvestri was arguing as if prejudicial statements had already been made even though as far as he could tell that had yet to happen.
CityCenter argued that the 35/65 split demonstrated the district court had carefully weighed and examined the documents to determine if they fell under the doctrine.
CityCenter attorneys have said they would like speedy decisions regarding these issues since the owners want to demolish the unfinished, 26-story building. They contend it could be a safety hazard, prone to collapse during an earthquake.
The $275 million Harmon sits unfinished and empty after construction was halted there in 2010 after the discovery of defects generally involving missing or improperly installed reinforcing steel.
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