In a reversal of an earlier decision, an appellate court ruled Friday that the owner of a firm that bid for but lost a chance to redevelop the old World Trade Center building on Canal Street must appear in New Orleans court for a case challenging the city’s selection process.
Meanwhile, an Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge ruled Friday that one of her colleagues may continue to preside over a separate suit that the group planning to turn the building into a Four Seasons Hotel and private residences filed against the losing firm.
Both developments were blows to losing bidder Two Canal Street Investors Inc. and its owner, Stuart “Neil” Fisher.
TCSI’s lawyers have argued that Fisher, a Florida developer, is not a party to the suit his firm filed against the city after it lost out in the process to choose a developer for the long-vacant 33-floor office tower.
Separately, Fisher has accused Civil District Judge Tiffany Chase, who has presided over three lawsuits involving the project, of being biased toward him and of soliciting donations from attorneys on the case.
TCSI accuses city officials of violating state law in how they went about selecting a contractor for the $360 million project. It argues that its proposal should have been chosen because it offered the city the most money in lease payments.
The New Orleans Building Corp., the agency that manages the World Trade Center site on Canal Street for the city, has argued that it could consider factors other than the highest rent when choosing a development team. Officials did so when they selected Carpenter and Co. and Woodward Design + Build’s proposal for a Four Seasons, their attorneys have said.
A city selection committee advising the Building Corp. ranked the TCSI proposal last of the five submissions received.
The defendants in that case have tried and mostly failed to get Fisher to appear in New Orleans to give a deposition.
Chase ruled in April that Fisher was a party to the suit and must show up in court within a month. He did not appear by that deadline but did show up at a later hearing on whether his case should be dismissed.
A state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal panel found earlier this month that Fisher was not a party to the TCSI suit, a ruling that prevented Chase from sanctioning him for missing the deadline and from tossing out his case. But that panel reversed its ruling on Friday. Had the judges known that Fisher was the owner of TCSI, they would not have overruled Chase’s order that he appear, they said.
“As TCSI is a Louisiana corporation … Mr. Fisher is/was appropriately to give his deposition in Louisiana as the trial judge had ruled,” the ruling said.
Fisher also lost his bid to remove Chase from one of the cases after Judge Ethel Julien rejected his claim that Chase was biased against Fisher.
Fisher also charged that Chase asked attorneys involved in the case to donate money for her bid for a 4th Circuit Court seat. Chase said her campaign team handles all of her fundraising.
To bolster his argument, Fisher pointed to a phone call he said he received from Chase last month as proof of her impropriety.
He said that after he called Chase’s court office and asked for information about a June campaign fundraiser, the person who answered the phone said they would get the right person to call back and assist him. Chase herself called back, Fisher said, though he said she told him she would ask someone else to call him and give him the donation information he sought.
Chase is still set to rule on whether Fisher is running a sham company, an allegation brought by Carpenter and Woodward. That ruling is expected within weeks.
In another development, Gov. John Bel Edwards last week signed a new law that speeds up the timeline for lawsuits challenging this and other public redevelopment projects.
Advocates of the Four Seasons project responded to the signing with a full-page newspaper ad Friday proclaiming, “New Orleans is one step closer to Four Seasons.”
The ad said the law, Senate Bill 447, “will limit frivolous, unfounded lawsuits” like the one challenging the Four Seasons project. It said the state and city “lose over $1.2 million for every month of delay.”
The ad included the names of hundreds of local business and civic leaders, lawyers and residents.