Clark County, health district locked in legal battle over property ownership

Clark County and the Southern Nevada Health District remain in a legal battle over whether the district can own property.

Each side has racked up separate six-figure costs for legal services. The total bill for taxpayers so far is $276,323.81, public records from both agencies show.

The unresolved lawsuit, now in the Nevada Supreme Court, started in 2011 with a district court case, in which the health district sought the right to own property under state law. A district court ruling in 2012 agreed with the county that the health district cannot own property, and the case was appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

The case has continued in the nearly two years since the health district suddenly moved out of its county-owned downtown headquarters at 625 Shadow Lane in April 2012, citing structural concerns about the property.

As the lawsuit has dragged out, efforts to resolve the matter have failed. In May 2012, the county offered to build the health district a new building to use as its headquarters to settle the lawsuit. But the health district hasn’t taken the county up on that offer.

“The county’s been trying to settle this lawsuit for almost two years,” County Manager Don Burnette said.

Noting the multiple efforts the county has made to resolve the matter, Burnette said: “I’m extremely frustrated.”

Health district spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Burnette said: “The county has spent an enormous amount of staff time and money exploring various options and looking at different properties for the district, all in an effort to settle this lawsuit. I can’t tell you how much time we’ve spent looking at all kinds of things for the district, accommodating the district’s interests and looking at different things they wanted to consider.”

Public records show that the health district’s total legal costs for the matter have reached $166,568.89. The health district pays its firm, Marquis Aurbach &Coffing, an hourly rate of $210, records show. The firm has three attorneys handling the case.

Those figures include litigation at the district court level and the Nevada Supreme Court case.

Kolesar &Leatham is handling the case for Clark County. The county’s legal costs so far have hit $109,754.92. Attorneys handling the case are paid $160 an hour and $130 an hour, with the higher hourly rate going to partners and the lower rate going to associate attorneys. Paralegal time is $75 an hour.

Of the county’s costs, $43,692.60 has been incurred since Clark County offered to build the health district a new building.

The real loser in the prolonged situation is the taxpayer, Burnette said.

“It’s been two years since we offered to build them a building,” Burnette said. “I don’t know how much better it gets than we’ll build you a building to settle this lawsuit. It’s just ridiculous that this hasn’t been settled over the last two years.”

There could be an end in sight. Both sides submitted oral arguments on Feb. 5, and the matter went to the Nevada Supreme Court for a decision, which hasn’t been issued yet.

Burnette noted that the county always makes efforts to reasonably resolve lawsuits. Other high-profile cases involving the county ended more quickly, such as the lawsuit involving North Las Vegas when the city started dumping wastewater into a county storm channel without permission in 2011. In 2012, the parties reached an agreement to build a pipeline for the wastewater.

The health district is currently operating its main facility out of 330 S. Valley View Blvd.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin @reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.