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Los Alamos: Attorney leaving over non-payment

February 15, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The law firm representing Los Alamos Land Co. — a Gateway of the Americas project landowner — has filed a motion to be relieved as counsel because the firm allegedly has not been paid for its services.

In its motion to be relieved, Los Angeles-area firm Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP says, "Los Alamos agreed to timely pay invoices for legal services. Los Alamos has not paid its invoices despite repeated requests that it do so."

A hearing on the matter was set for 8:30 this morning in Imperial County Superior Court before Judge Jeffrey Jones but no one from Los Alamos showed up.

Jones said Los Alamos general counsel Eric Stenman called this morning to say neither he nor anyone else from Los Alamos was notified of today's hearing.

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The court was assured otherwise by Stephen Abraham, the Cox, Castle & Nicholson attorney representing Los Alamos locally who filed the motion to be relieved of duties representing Los Alamos, who told Jones that he had notified Stenman and Los Alamos.

As a result, Jones had Abraham sworn in and testify that Stenman and Los Alamos were notified "any time before today" that a hearing was scheduled.

Today's hearing was to discuss the possibility of compressing the time frame under which Abraham could withdraw as Los Alamos counsel. A new hearing date was set for March 1, also before Jones.

Abraham declined to comment on any specifics of the motion to withdraw or about his relationship with Los Alamos, deferring all questions to Los Alamos.

Los Alamos principal Thomas Nassif could not be reached for comment.

Should the court approve Abraham's motion to withdraw as counsel, it is not expected to prejudice or harm Los Alamos in any proceeding before the court, according to the motion filed, as Nassif and Stenman are attorneys. Additionally, Los Alamos can obtain other counsel, the motion says.

Abraham has been representing Los Alamos in a lawsuit against Imperial County. In that suit Los Alamos alleges it signed a Gateway backbone road agreement under duress because the county said it would not approve final development maps for Los Alamos until Los Alamos gave a cash deposit for two lanes of the road.

In response, the county filed a motion for summary adjudication seeking a court order to force Los Alamos to post security for Menvielle Road, and the court ruled in the county's favor in December. Los Alamos has said it will appeal the ruling.

Meanwhile, the parties had a case management conference, also in December, as they head toward trial on issues not included in the court's decision. At the case management conference they discussed the discovery process — a pre-trial device that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party in order to assist the party's preparation for trial — the possible use of expert witnesses and when to actually try the case.

Jones set May 2 as the trial date and it has not been changed. The trial is expected to last four days.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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