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O’Melveny & Myers has been named in a $150 million suit for its role in a controversial Los Angeles high school construction project. The firm is among 17 defendants alleged to have violated the state’s unfair competition law as well as federal racketeering laws during the building of the Belmont Learning Center. The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, is the latest episode in a history of litigation stemming from environmental problems that halted construction of the center in 1998. Earlier this year, O’Melveny, the school district’s principal outside counsel in the project, settled a malpractice suit filed by the school district. James Colbert III, a partner and claims counsel at O’Melveny, said the latest suit was without merit. “We believe that the present case is even more meritless than that brought by the school district, and we intend to defend it vigorously,” said Colbert. Unlike prior litigation initiated by the Los Angeles school district, Contreras v. Temple Beaudry Partners, BC281458, is a representative claim on behalf of the 10,000 students that plaintiff lawyers assert would have attended the school during the past three years. The lead plaintiffs are two children that would have attended Belmont, as well as their father and another lawyer, both acting as private attorneys general under �17200 of California’s Business & Professions Code. According to the suit, the defendants intentionally failed to dispose of hazardous gasses that accumulated in the soil of the construction site, resulting in a delay of the school’s completion and depriving students of a high-quality education. Construction has resumed on the school after a two-year hiatus. “Defendants’ failure to meet their legal duties with regard to the mitigation of methane and hydrogen sulfide adversely impacted these children’s fundamental interest in an education that they anticipated and deserved,” reads the complaint. “But for the defendants’ separate actions and mutual conspiracy, the Belmont Learning Center would be open today.” Roger Carrick, a Los Angeles attorney representing the plaintiffs, said damages from the failure to open the school are estimated at $5,000 per student. The suit asks the court to treble those damages as allowed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, for a total of $150 million, plus attorneys fees. Carrick is no stranger to the Belmont Learning Center controversy. In 1999 he was part of a special investigations unit assigned by the school district to look into various issues related to the construction of the school. In a pair of reports released later that year the group concluded that there were numerous criminal violations, but Carrick said no one has been charged with a crime. A spokeswoman for the L.A. district attorney’s office said Tuesday that no charges had resulted from a previous investigation of possible environmental crimes at the site. But she said current DA Steve Cooley plans to issue the results of a more detailed investigation in a few weeks. Carrick said he filed his suit just as an environmental crimes statute of limitations was set to expire, which he said could be interpreted to be Sept. 13, 2002, three years after the first report was issued. Among the other defendants in the suit are Temple Beaudry Partners, Kajima Urban Development and other companies that were involved as developers or consultants to the developers in the project. O’Melveny’s Colbert said it was possible the firm would be represented by L.A.-based rival Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher once again. “We were represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in the defense of the action brought by school district, and we are talking with Gibson about their possible representation with respect to this matter as well,” said Colbert. According to Colbert, O’Melveny won summary judgment in the malpractice suit filed by the school district in Los Angeles Superior Court. In exchange for the school district dropping any appeal, O’Melveny contributed $3 million to the completion of the school.

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