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Grand Hotel asks town to pay fees
Written by {ga=staff-reporter}   
Thursday, 24 March 2011 00:00

Attorneys for Jerome Grand Hotel asked Yavapai Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley to order the town of Jerome to pay hotel owners more than $75,000 in attorney fees and litigation costs, according to court documents.

Robert Altherr, owner of the Jerome Grand Hotel, discusses Dec. 15 the hotel's closure by the town of Jerome on Dec. 8 due to alleged building code violations. The hotel reopened  Jan. 20 after a two-day hearing at which Yavapai Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley found the town acted improperly and issued a preliminary injunction.The fees and costs accumulated since October, when town officials claimed the hotel was unsafe and ordered it to be closed. The hotel reopened Jan. 20 after a two-day hearing at which Ainley found the town acted improperly and issued a preliminary injunction.

Attorneys for Jerome argued hotel owners are not entitled to fees or costs because their lawsuit is for declaratory judgment, a special kind of lawsuit that does not allow recovery of attorney fees, according to a 1975 Arizona Supreme Court decision.

Hotel attorney John E. Phillips billed hotel owners Robert and Larry Altherr for more than $53,000 in fees based on 224 hours of legal work performed between Oct. 8 and Feb. 5.

The Altherrs are also asking for nearly $23,000 in costs, including expert witness fees, filing fees, transcripts, postage and copying. Larry Litchfield, who testified as an expert witness for the hotel owners billed more than $15,000 for his services.

In his motion, Phillips argued the court could choose from a variety of state laws that allow or require an award of attorney fees and costs to a successful litigant. Hotel owners are entitled to fees and costs, for example, because a 1989 ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court recognizes private attorneys can sometimes act like state attorneys general when the lawsuits they file benefit a large number of people and is important to society.

“The rights that [hotel owners] have pressed belong to all Americans, the right to due process of and the right to be treated equally under the law,” Phillips wrote.

At the hearing Jan. 7, Litchfield testified notices delivered to the Altherrs asking them to correct problems at the hotel were confusing and failed to inform them of precisely what changes or improvements the town required. The town acted too quickly and denied the Altherrs due process, he said.

The notices failed to delineate the alleged violations of the building and fire code, failed to set forth the process hotel owners had to follow to correct problems or seek an appeal and failed to identify the town officials they needed to contact, Litchfield testified.

“If one of my staff had prepared that notice I would have told them to throw it away and start over,” Litchfield said.

Litchfield also testified the Jerome Grand Hotel should not have been closed by Jerome building officials Dec. 8.

The hotel was constructed in 1926 in compliance with building codes at the time. It was improper for the town to require the building to comply with modern building codes when other methods to made it just as safe, Litchfield said.

Smoke and heat detection devices throughout the hotel, including individual smoke detectors in each room, water sprinklers, emergency lighting and upgrades to standing pipes in order to accommodate Jerome Fire Department equipment made the building safe, he said.

Staff for the town of Jerome argue they acted properly because the hotel owners failed to obtain building permits for ongoing structural improvements and adequate due process was provided.


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