Court lets $9 million judgment stand


Staff and Wire Reports

A Clovis couple is happy the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal of a nearly $9 million judgment against a Utah developer stemming from a dispute involving the development of North Plains Mall in Clovis.

“It’s been a long battle — 10 years,” said Armand Smith of Clovis. “We’re just happy it’s over.”

Utah developer and U.S. Ambassador John Price and his Fairfax Realty were found to have tricked Armand and Virginia Smith out of about $1 million in a project to build the mall.

A jury in spring 2001 awarded the Smiths $6.5 million in damages plus interest and attorneys’ fees, bringing the total settlement to more than $8.7 million.

The company lost an appeal before the Utah Supreme Court in October. The justices said the punitive damages were warranted because Price’s relative wealth — valued at $37 million — and his deliberate false statements constituted trickery and deceit.

Earlier this month, Price filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the arguments in a one-sentence order.

The effect is that the Utah Supreme Court’s ruling will stand.

President George W. Bush named Price as ambassador to Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Comoros Republic, islands in the Indian Ocean, after his original trial. Price handled the Bush campaign’s finances in Utah and contributed $471,550 of his own money to the 2000 campaign.

Le Mauricien, Mauritius’ largest newspaper, in October called for Price to resign, partly because of the Utah Supreme Court’s ruling against him and also because he skipped the inauguration of the country’s new president and left early from a ceremony celebrating Muhammad’s birthday.

In the lawsuit trial, jurors found that Price conveyed the mall partnership to his own investment trust without the Smiths’ consent and then sold the stock for more than $100 million. He then paid the Smiths only $6,160 for their interest, which was eventually determined to be worth more than $1 million.

Price’s attorney, James Jardine, said, “we raised good issues,” but that the court can hear only a fraction of the petitions it is presented with. He said the appeals process in this case is over.

Fairfax Realty issued a statement, saying it was naturally disappointed.

“While Fairfax believes this case was a simple business dispute between it and two individuals in a partnership, Fairfax respects the legal system and will proceed to satisfy its obligations under the judgment,” the statement read.

Robert S. Campbell, the Smiths’ attorney, said the couple was elated with the ruling.

“The case has been in the courts nearly 10 years, and the result reaffirms our abiding belief in the judicial system,” he said.

He said the fact that the high court took only 19 days to deny Price’s petition, while it usually takes such petitions under advisement for months, showed that the justices didn’t give Price’s arguments much credence.


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