The Battle of the River Bottoms is back in 3rd District Court.
In the latest round, a motion by a group of South Jordan residents to toss out a $1.2 million lawsuit filed against them by developer Gerald Anderson was placed on hold while a judge reviews the arguments.Anderson filed suit against SOS (Save Open Space) in March, contending the organization unlawfully interfered with his efforts to develop the 85-acre RiverPark office complex west of the Jordan River and south of 10600 South.
But SOS's attorney, Ross "Rocky" Anderson, told Judge Tim Hanson Friday his clients' efforts to preserve the river bottoms as open space did not break any contract or interfere with the developers' rights.
The project has gone ahead despite SOS's opposition, he noted, and the sale of the properties in question has been consummated.
"Nothing that has been alleged here fits the (legal) meaning of interference," Rocky Anderson said.
But attorney Jeffrey Walker, who represents developer Gerald Anderson, charged that false claims and distortions of facts by SOS had harmed his client financially by slowing down the project and driving up property costs.
He accused SOS of making false claims that it was a tax-exempt environmental organization that had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase the river bottoms land. Those claims, the attorney said, encouraged landowners to hold on to their property until the developer's options on their ground had expired.
That forced Gerald Anderson to renew the options at much higher prices, Walker said. "That significantly damaged the developer."
Walker urged the judge to look beyond SOS's "politically charged" version of the events and recognize the South Jordan group's action was both wrongful and harmful.
Gerald Anderson is suing SOS members for at least $200,000 in general damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
Hanson, who took the case under advisement and will rule on the motion at a later date, called a 45-minute recess at the beginning of the hearing to research a possible conflict-of-interest issue.
Michael Hutchings, who holds a minority interest in the RiverPark project, is also a 3rd District judge, and Hanson consulted various authorities during the recess to make sure it would be proper for him to hear the case.
The judge stressed that his relationship to Hutchings "is virtually nil" and consists mostly of running into Hutchings at judicial meetings and court functions.
Hanson left the issue open, saying he would hear arguments on the merits of the case but won't make a decision until he receives written comments from both parties and further satisfies himself it would not be a conflict to rule on the suit. "I'm concerned about the appearance of impropriety," the judge explained.
After the hearing, Rocky Anderson said the suit was intended to intimidate SOS and discourage the group from exercising its constitutional rights to oppose the office park development.
"It has scared a lot of people away . . . and has had a stifling effect on people's willingness to pursue their democratic rights," he added.