Jury selection begins for damages trial over flawed hotel at heart of big Vegas Strip complex

Industries Associated Press

The Harmon Hotel tower was designed to soar 48 stories over MGM Resorts International's massive CityCenter complex, offering hotel guests and condominium owners unparalleled views at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.

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Instead, work stopped halfway in 2008, after inspectors found that steel used on the first 26 stories wouldn't support the remaining 22 floors.

While general contractor Tutor Perini Corp., its subcontractors and the casino company fought over who was to blame, the rest of the glitzy and glassy $8.5 billion development opened in 2009 on the CityCenter site.

On Tuesday, six years after problems were found, jury selection began in Nevada state court for a massive breach-of-contract trial with as much as $500 million at stake for the casino company that never opened the flawed hotel and condominium tower and the project's general contractor, Tutor Perini Corp.

"Perini and CityCenter have accused each other of breaching their contract," prospective jurors were told in a one-page case synopsis made part of a 35-page questionnaire. "Before coming to court today, had you read or heard anything about a lawsuit involving the construction of the Harmon Hotel at CityCenter?"

Attorneys for MGM Resorts and its subsidiaries and Tutor Perini and other plaintiffs, including steel companies and condo owners, have already fought pitched battles ahead of arguments before the jury that will be seated for what could be a yearlong trial.

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Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez started with surveys asking 6,000 prospective jurors whether they could spend a year hearing a trial. She whittled the list to 407 people based on those surveys and the quesionnaires before lawyers for seven parties began final queries to seat eight civil trial jurors and 12 alternates to hear the case. The process is expected to take about a week.

More than 3 million evidence exhibits were logged for the trial, and that most would be presented in electronic form, court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said. A courtroom in Las Vegas has been reconfigured and rewired to accommodate more than 35 lawyers and paralegal aides, leaving about nine seats for the media and public.

The case folds 12 lawsuits into one, with lawyers for Tutor Perini arguing that MGM Mirage failed to pay construction bills and the casino company arguing the contractor was responsible for the building flaws.

The sleek blue, glass cylindrical Harmon sat unused — a $500 million mistake wrapped with advertising for Cirque du Soleil shows — while inspectors called it an earthquake hazard and lawyers fought over whether it could be safely imploded.

Tutor Perini had contended the building that was built was structurally sound and could be fixed, and that MGM Resorts wanted the building demolished to bolster its position before trial.

Ultimately, Gonzalez decided that the Harmon could be dismantled piece by piece.

The 66-acre CityCenter development at Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard includes three other hotels, a casino, a pair of condominium towers called Veer that tilt toward each other, and a convention center. It also features the upscale Crystals shopping center, with high-end shops such as Emilio Pucci, Hermes, Harry Winston, Tiffany, Cartier, Valentino and Versace.