As Jerry Colangelo - the godfather of Phoenix sports - is accompanying GCU to the NCAA men's basketball tournament this weekend, his company owning the Biltmore golf courses was slammed yesterday for bullying homeowners.
JDM Golf, which Colangelo owns with developers David Eaton and Mel Shultz, counter-sued the homeowners who are opposed to the expansion of non-golf activities permitted on the courses. Superior Court Judge Daniel Martin signed a judgment (below) dismissing the counterclaim and sanctioning JDM for $75,000 of attorneys' fees and penalties.
Colangelo's company - partly represented by well-known Phoenix attorney Leo Beus - claimed the owners of some of the multi-million dollar homes had defamed the company, invasion of privacy, breach of contract (and other claims). The HOA and neighbors moved to dismiss the counterclaim, saying (in part) that it violated Arizona's anti-SLAPP law.
In that law, "SLAPP" stands for "Strategic lawsuits against public participation". Judge Martin was persuaded that the homeowners' actions opposing the golf course expansion by setting up websites, posting signs and filing this lawsuit were all part of petitioning the city of Phoenix.
Judge Martin agreed, and found that the counterclaim was filed for the "improper purpose" of trying to discourage such public participation. He dismissed the counterclaim with prejudice, awarded $62,598 in attorneys' fees and $12,520 in sanctions.
Jason Morris, one of the attorneys representing the neighbors, explains it to Arizona's Law this way:
“The court recognized JDM Golf’s multi-count counterclaim against the homeowners for exactly what it is: an oppressive and meritless attempt to harass and intimidate Arizona citizens in order to discourage them from exercising their constitutional right to participate in civic engagement. Arizona’s anti-SLAPP statute exists to prevent precisely this kind of strategic suit by deep-pocketed special interests seeking to chill public debate. We appreciate the court dismissing JDM’s counterclaim and handing down a sizable financial penalty to dissuade JDM from attempting this kind of abusive action again in the future.”
The battle on the original lawsuit by the neighbors continues. And, JDM's proposal will be in front of the Phoenix Board of Adjustment tomorrow (Thursday).
* In addition to the Suns and the Diamondbacks, Colangelo was also instrumental in getting the NHL's now-Phoenix Coyotes to join the Canadian snowbirds who make the permanent move to the desert.
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