By Liset Marquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 01/20/15, 10:40 AM PST | Updated: 35 secs ago
RIVERSIDE >> Attorneys for Ontario will continue to press for the release of 399 documents that they say could determine the fate of the city’s legal battle for local control of LA/Ontario International Airport.
The battle for those documents on Tuesday went to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which suspended the release of the files, pending further review.
Ontario’s attorneys say those documents will help in their legal battle to wrest local control of the airport from Los Angeles World Airport.
On Tuesday morning, both cities were at Riverside Superior Court to again discuss the disclosure of the documents, which Los Angeles maintained are attorney-client privilege.
At the hearing, Judge Gloria Connor Trask denied a second request by L.A.’s attorneys to stop the disclosure of the unredacted documents.
Under Trask’s order, L.A. would have had to produce 399 documents by noon Tuesday. L.A. appealed.
And under the appellate court’s suspension, Ontario will now have to wait to find out why Los Angeles World Airports’ executive director gave her own evaluation or review of the opinions and statements from LAWA’s attorneys to the airport agency’s board of commissioners.
Such documents have been vital so far, Ontario attorneys said. During the discovery process, Andre Cronthall, Ontario’s attorney, said Ontario has learned significant details that it has used for depositions in the case for local control. Attorneys for Ontario will be conducting expert testimony this week and later this month.
“With respect to the other material that is pertinent to the case, the executive director’s performance is highly relevant to the dispute,” Cronthall said following Tuesday’s hearing. “Materials presented during the board of airport commissioners meetings, on Power Point slides, that’s the kind of things we are entitled to see.”
Ontario claims LAWA is trying to overcharge for ONT, in the city’s efforts to gain control of the airport. LAWA claims it has invested $195 million in improvements at ONT that has not been reimbursed.
“Since the litigation was filed we had to rely on document and testimony provided by L.A., in order to get to the bottom-line answers to what, in fact, L.A. has invested in the airport that wasn’t reimbursed,” Cronthall said. Ontario obtained Bjorn Malmlund, a forensic accountant with Ernst and Young, who conducted an analysis of the documents provided by LAWA on ONT.
“Virtually none of it was actually an unreimbursed expense. Maybe $4.5 million was unreimbursed to ONT,” Cronthall said of the $195 million figure.
According to a December deposition from Malmlund, $128 million is from passenger facility charges — collected from passengers at Los Angeles International Airport— and used for improvements at Ontario.
Those funds were collected from passengers and approved by the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration for specific projects at ONT.
“The problem with that is it’s not LA’s money, it’s passenger money and not money taken out of any account,” Cronthall said. “To claim Ontario owes $128 million dollars to L.A. because L.A. paid that money, we think is a stretch, to say the least.”
Then there’s $15 million, which LAWA claims were for budgeted expenditure at Ontario, but Malmlund found no documentation to show how those funds were used at Ontario, he said. In other cases, LAWA is claiming it is owed money that was offset by grants, Cronthall added.
Between 1994 and 2003, ONT collected $165 million in passenger facility charges and earned an interest of $45 million.
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