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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — February 13, 2004


Airport reimbursed
for Tutor suit costs

Insurance will cover up to $1 million

Express Staff Writer

Still reveling in the federal court decision upholding its ban on larger jets, the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority received more good news this week.

One of the airports insurers, Royal & Sunalliance, sent Friedman Memorial reimbursement checks totaling $416,474 to cover preliminary legal costs of fighting the lawsuit filed by California multimillionaire-jet owner Ronald Tutor.

Using a Freedom of Information public documents request, the Mountain Express obtained copies of the three checks—for $20,000, $281,543.56 and $114,930.92.

Through December, airport legal costs totaled $600,000, according to Airport Manager Rick Baird, with January bills yet to be submitted.

For this lawsuit, Friedman Memorial has hired an aviation litigation specialty attorney, Peter Kirsch, of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, of Denver.

Up to $1 million of legal costs will be covered by the airport’s policy, according to airport attorney Barry Luboviski of Ketchum.

Costs are bound to increase. One of Tutor’s senior attorneys, Jonathan Morse, of Santa Monica, Calif., has announced plans to appeal Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill’s decision throwing Tutor’s suit out of court.

Luboviski told authority members that he believes the airport has "a reasonable chance" of the courts ordering Tutor to repay the airport’s legal fees. Any repayment, however, traditionally is turned over to the insurance company to reimburse its payments.

During the authority’s monthly meeting Tuesday, Feb. 10, Luboviski characterized Judge Winmill’s 30-page order on Jan. 20 dismissing Tutor’s claims as "scathing" and the lawsuit itself as "frivolous."

He told the board that he’s received congratulatory calls from throughout the country, many expressing resentment that a wealthy California tycoon would attempt to dictate airport operating policies.

Baird said he also received calls from throughout the nation, especially from airport managers concerned about the precedence the Tutor claims would have created for their operations had he won.

Owners and operators of larger jets such as the BBJ have been hoping to get access to smaller airports because of their convenience for executives.

Baird observed that if the thousands of pages of documents gathered by the airport staff as evidence for the court fight were fashioned into a boat anchor, "the paperwork could anchor a significant vessel."

In rejecting Tutor’s core claims that his constitutional rights to travel were being denied by Friedman Memorial’s ban on the 737-sized Boeing Business Jet, Judge Winmill wrote icily: "At most, Mr. Tutor has been inconvenienced by the necessity of using a method of travel other than that which he prefers."

Tutor, who has a vacation home north of Ketchum, uses a smaller Gulfstream III jet to commute here from California. His luxurious, customized BBJ, whose lavish interior furnishings have been featured in a cable TV documentary, has takeoff and landing weights far exceeding Friedman’s 95,000-pound limit. In addition, its wingspan is considered excessive for Friedman’s single runway and closely aligned nearby taxiways.

Tutor and his company, Tutor-Saliba Corp., of Sylmar, Calif., which has won huge California public works contracts, are no strangers to controversy or courtrooms. In articles tracking Tutor’s rise to prominence, the Los Angeles Times characterizes Tutor as one of California’s most influential businessmen among politicians, offering his jet to high-ranking politicians as well as spending thousands of dollars on election campaigns.

Tutor-Saliba Corp. is now appealing a judge’s order in 2001 for Tutor-Saliba to pay $30 million to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Los Angeles as triple damages for alleged violations of a construction contract involving Metro Rail.

Despite criticism of his business practices, Tutor continues to receive huge public works jobs. In the past year, the company has been awarded a $33 million contract at Van Nuys Airport, an $18 million sewer system job and a contract to build a $36.5 million high school, among others.

Many of the criticisms of Tutor-Saliba involve so-called change orders—modifying contracts after work has begun.

The late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as calling Tutor "a change-order artist" who’s made millions of dollars on project modifications.


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