With the Yakima Air Terminal possibly on the hook for millions in damages over the unlawful eviction of a tenant four years ago, the city of Yakima is trying to shift liability to the attorney who represented the airport in the eviction.
In a complaint filed last month in Yakima County Superior Court as part of the ongoing eviction case, the airport, Yakima County and the city – which co-owned the airport during the eviction – said negligence by Russell Gilbert and his firm, Lyon Weigand & Gustafson, led to an unfavorable ruling by the state Court of Appeals in December 2013.
The appeals court ruled that M.A. West Rockies, which was leasing airfield access and doing business as Noland Decoto Flying Service, was current on rent at the time of its eviction. The ruling reversed a June 2010 ruling by now-retired Superior Court Judge James Lust that affirmed the eviction.
“(Gilbert) failed to meet the minimum standard of care of reasonable real estate-eviction lawyers in the state of Washington in the same or similar circumstances,” the airport wrote in its complaint.
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In the complaint, the airport asks that Gilbert and the law firm be held jointly responsible for any damages to awarded to M.A. West Rockies and legal fees incurred and paid during ongoing litigation. The airport is also requesting that Gilbert repay legal fees paid for his representation. The complaint does not say how much Gilbert was paid.
A hearing scheduled for Friday in Yakima County Superior Court will determine whether to incorporate the complaint into the existing case. Neither side would comment extensively on the complaint.
“The complaint generally speaks for itself,” said Jeff Cutter, attorney for the city of Yakima, which has been the sole owner of the airport since February 2013.
Gilbert referred questions to Brad Keller, a Seattle attorney representing him and the law firm.
“Russ Gilbert and his law firm did excellent work for their former client, the airport,” Keller said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It is the airport that mishandled the eviction; it has no one to blame but itself.”
Also opposing the airport’s complaint is the Langdon Family Revocable Trust, a trustee of the now-defunct M.A. West Rockies. In a filing last week, the trust said while it does not have an issue with the airport going after Gilbert for negligence, it should do so in a separate proceeding.
“If they gave bad legal services to the Yakima Air Terminal, the air terminal is still the only defendant necessary for the adjudication of the wrongful eviction damages,” the trust wrote in its response.
As part of its ruling, the appeals court sent the case back to Yakima County Superior Court to determine how much in damages the airport (and its owners) would have to pay to M.A. West Rockies.
The court has yet to make a final decision on damages, though it has already awarded more than $22,000 in attorney fees and costs to the Langdon Family Revocable Trust, which also filed a claim against Yakima County and the city of Yakima for $7 million in damages. That amount could increase if it seeks damages for wrongful interference with the M.A. West Rockies property.
A creditor of M.A. West Rockies, Bellevue-based Lockwood Foundation, also filed a $3.4 million claim against the city and the county.