Change of venue denied by judge |

Change of venue denied by judge

The case between Wallace Theaters Corporation and the proponents of the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project will be heard on home turf, El Dorado Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury ruled last week.

“Wallace argues that once possession of the property takes place, and that event has now occurred, it will no longer be doing business in El Dorado County and hence there is a reasonable likelihood that it will be perceived as an outsider,” Kingsbury wrote in the ruling against Wallace’s motion to move the trial to a Sacramento court. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Kingsbury added that the theater company, which currently operates an eight-screen multiplex in the Horizon Casino Hotel, serves customers in El Dorado County.

Wallace Theaters filed the lawsuit against the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency and other proponents of the Park Avenue Project in March, when it was denied the contract to operate the new theater planned to be built in the project area.

Trans-Sierra Investments, the commercial space developer for the Park Avenue Project, awarded that contract to the Delaware-based Resort Theaters of America on the merits of its business proposal, said Lewis Feldman, attorney for the developers. The Redevelopment Agency supported that decision in a March public hearing.

The theater company contends that, under California law, reasonable preference must be given to tenants that are displaced by the project. As the former operator of a one-screen theater within the project area, Wallace Theaters claims it is entitled to that preference.

Wallace Theaters wants a judge, but not a South Lake Tahoe judge, to decide its final fate.

In two attempts, Wallace Theaters tried to disqualify Kingsbury from the bench in other redevelopment-related legal action, particularly a motion to stay within the project area, which was also denied. Wallace claimed that the judge’s personal friendship with City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo could sway her decisions.

Both attempts were shot down, first by Judge Joseph Harvey and then by Kingsbury. But Wallace Theaters pushed on.

Attorney C. Nicole Murphy, representing the theater company, requested that the trial on the issue of tenant preference, which is scheduled for Nov. 7 in El Dorado Superior Court, be moved to a Sacramento court.

“The purpose of the change of venue was to balance out the presumed prejudice that the public entity might enjoy in its own jurisdiction,” Murphy said. “We could request a reconsideration of the ruling, and I may do that once I see the court’s decision for myself.”

Named in the suit are South Lake Tahoe City Councilmembers Hal Cole, Tom Davis, Bill Crawford, Brooke Laine and Judy Brown, in their official capacity and as individuals; the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency; Trans Sierra Investments; American Skiing Company; Heavenly Resort Properties, LLC; Heavenly Valley LP; Gary Casteel, owner of Trans-Sierra Investments; John and Camilla Jovicich, owners of Cecil’s Market; Resort Theaters of America; The Tahoe Crescent Partnership, LTD and Terry Hackett.

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