Downtown Jackson Partners President Ben Allen says he's frustrated with the constant roadblocks to the Farish Street Entertainment District.
(Updated Oct. 31, 2013) David Watkins' attorney is charging that a local law firm is helping clients “attempting to steal the Farish Street project from (Watkins)" with its involvement with various lawsuits spinning around the beleaguered developer and his various projects.
Attorney Lance Stevens also wrote in the motion for an injunction late Wednesday that inter-tangled relationships between attorneys and principals involved in the various lawsuits create a situation that is “ripe for corruption and present an unacceptable ethical scenario.”
Stevens' motion, filed with Hinds County Chancery Court late Wednesday, seeks to prevent the New Orleans-based Jones Walker Law Firm from representing the Jackson Redevelopment Authority in its lawsuit against developer David Watkins and his firm, Farish Street Group LLC.
The filing claims that Jones Walker lawyers who are set to represent JRA in the suit against Farish Street Group have "unwaivable" conflicts of interest because they are simultaneously involved in lawsuits involving the principal members of the Farish Street Group, the firm that JRA is suing, with millions of dollars hanging in the balance.
Jones Walker is currently representing Retro Metro LLC and its principals Socrates Garrett and LeRoy Walker in four suits, including at least one against Watkins. The firm is defending Retro Metro in three of those suits against contractors who say they have not been paid for performed work, and the fourth against Watkins and his firm Meridian Law Enforcement Center LLC.
Stevens' motion details the following cases, involving Watkins and Retro Metro principals as defendants, as evidence of his conflict-of-interest claim:
- Ellis v. Watkins Development, et al. – Jones Walker represents party Retro Metro LLC in a lawsuit over unpaid contractor bills.
- Richardson v. Retro Metro LLC – Jones Walker represents Retro Metro in a similar dispute. Its attorneys also represented Leroy Walker and Socrates Garrett individually until they were dismissed earlier this month.
- Climate Masters et al v. Watkins et al – Jones Walker represents Retro Metro principals, who have filed a counter-claim against Watkins.
- Retro Metro LLC v. Watkins et al – Jones Walker represents Retro Metro LLC in a direct action against David Watkins, as well as the Meridian Law Enforcement Center LLC, which Watkins is a 75 percent shareholder in. In that case, Retro Metro is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from Watkins.
- Watkins v. Walker – Jones Walker attorneys represent Retro Metro principal Leroy Walker in a $75,000 claim for a breach of a promissory note.
After the list, Stevens added: "It is currently unknown how many other matters Jones Walker is currently handling, or has recently handled, for Garrett, Walker, their respective companies or any other principal i in Farish Street Group."
Keith Parsons, a Jones Walker partner, served as bond counsel for the Retro Metro project to renovate Metrocenter, which received $5.2 million in state money from the Mississippi Business Finance Corp. Parsons also, on Tuesday, testified against Watkins in the secretary of state's investigative hearing to determine whether the developer committed securities fraud when he transferred money from Retro Metro to a Meridian Law Enforcement Center account in June 2011.
Neither Parsons nor Mark Herbert, named in Stevens' motion for an injunction due to his involvement with JRA, immediately returned calls.
Because Garrett and Walker are defendants in the JRA suit against Farish Street Group, Stevens argues that Jones Walker cannot represent them and be involved in a lawsuit against them at the same time.
“The impact of this conflict goes beyond esoteric rules of engagement,” Stevens wrote. He added that Garrett and Walker, in conjunction with Jones Walker attorney Zach Taylor, the lead lawyer representing the JRA board, “have actively taken actions adverse to Watkins’ interest in the Farish Street Project.”
Stevens writes that Taylor refused to accept an 800-page status report about the Farish project from Watkins, declaring it “dead on arrival” prior to JRA cancelling its lease with the Farish Street Group in late September.
The attorney further argues in the filing that Garrett and Walker, whom he refers to as “Watkins’ principals,” owe Watkins a duty of good faith and loyalty, but are in this instance “attempting to steal the Farish Street project from him” and could collude with an “adverse” lawyer. Stevens says these relationships create a situation that is “ripe for corruption and present an unacceptable ethical scenario.”
Stevens asks the court to issue an order including "language which specifically prohibits Jones Walker from providing any aid to the JRA in the prosecution of this matter and must enjoin them from communicating with Walker, Garrett or any member of the Farish Group LLC on any matter addressing, touching upon or implicating their relationship with the Farish Group LLC or the Farish Street project."
Neither Garrett nor Walker could be reached for comment. This story represents only one side of a legal dispute.
Donna Ladd contributed to this report.