Arizona Board Of Regents Win Fees, Costs In Court Case Over Real Estate Deal

Published: Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 7:11pm
Updated: Sunday, February 9, 2020 - 8:48pm
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Mark Brnovich

An Arizona judge has ordered one part of state government to reimburse another part for over $982,000 in attorney fees and other legal costs in a court case stemming from a real estate development.

The ruling Wednesday by Tax Court Judge Judge Christopher Whitten in favor of the state Board of Regents follows a November ruling against Attorney General Mark Brnovich's lawsuit challenging a deal between Arizona State University and hotel developers.

The Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system, prevailed in the court case in November when Whitten ruled that Brnovich’s office filed the lawsuit after the one-year statute of limitations expired.

Brnovich argued the deal was an unconstitutional gift to developers. Building the hotel on university land would make it exempt from property taxes. The regents said the transaction wasn't one-sided because it benefited the university by providing rental payments and a needed conference center and hotel.

Brnovich plans to appeal Whitten's November decision granting summary judgment to the Board of Regents and the ruling on legal costs.

In Wednesday's ruling, Whitten rejected Brnovich's arguments that the legal fees paid by the regents for their defense from the lawsuit were excessive.

The lawyers defending the regents were highly skilled and experienced and the case had to be handled quickly, Whitten wrote.

“It was a sprint, not a marathon,” he said. “As such, it is not surprising that a great number of hours were billed in a short time, and by a large team of attorneys.”

The board welcomed the ruling, saying Brnovich's lawsuit was a “waste of taxpayer dollars and resources for unnecessary litigation.

Brnovich aide Ryan Anderson said the ruling on legal costs doesn't end the matter.

“We can now move forward with our appeal, including an appeal of these exorbitant fees,” he said.

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