Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Judge sets McKinstry lawsuit hearings

Issues involve fraud allegations and punitive damages

Express Staff Writer

Judge Robert Elgee on Monday scheduled three Blaine County 5th District Court hearings to settle pretrial issues raised in multi-million-dollar litigation between the Blaine County School District and its energy contractor, Seattle-based McKinstry Essention.

In a telephonic hearing involving attorneys from both parties, Elgee ruled that one McKinstry motion before the court and two district issues would be heard and considered separately.

The judge kept in place a hearing set for Monday, April 22, to consider McKinstry’s motion to have a fraud claim removed from the district’s complaint against the company.

He scheduled a hearing for May 20 to consider a district motion to amend its complaint against McKinstry to include additional fraud allegations.

In separating the issues, Elgee ruled against a request by the district’s attorney, Robert L. Bilow, that both motions be considered together.

“It’s just like they’re so related they should be heard together for judicial economy,” Bilow said. “Why don’t we let the judge and the court look at the whole picture?”

McKinstry attorney Douglas R. Roach, who argued for separation of the issues, said McKinstry is anxious to be rid of the fraud allegations because they make some of the company personnel look like “crooks.”

“We want to clear the air on this,” Roach said. “It’s terrible, as the court can imagine, for McKinstry’s reputation.”

Finally, the judge scheduled a hearing for June 4 to consider a district motion to add punitive damages to its complaint against McKinstry.

The litigation stems from a contract entered into between the parties in 2010 for energy savings work and other improvements at eight district schools and other facilities. McKinstry has claimed that it performed work worth about $26 million and the district still owes it about $7 million. The district claims it authorized work worth only $18.6 million and is claiming damages against McKinstry for at least that amount.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin in Blaine County 5th District Court on Oct. 15.

Terry Smith:

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