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December 22, 2014

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Nevada board pays $920,000 in attorney fees for Jim Rhodes’ development suit

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Developer Jim Rhodes smiles on Blue Diamond Hill on Monday, May 5, 2003. Las Vegas can be seen in the background.

The Nevada Board of Examiners today reluctantly agreed to pay $920,000 to a Los Angeles law firm that beat the state in a dispute over a planned development near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The money will go to Manatt Phelps & Phillips, which charged $700 an hour in successfully challenging a 2003 state law that restricted development adjacent to Red Rock in Southern Nevada.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto questioned whether the state should continue the district court fight to get the fees reduced.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Bryan Stockton told the two members of the examiners board that the amount might, “in the best case,” be lowered to $800,000 if the state was successful. But it also could balloon to $1.6 million, which was the original request.

Stockton said he was able to negotiate the request down to the $920,000 without interest being paid.

“It sounds like we’re blocked," Sandoval said. "This is tough to swallow.”

Developer Jim Rhodes purchased 2,400 acres on the site of an abandoned gypsum mine in the Spring Mountain area. But the 2003 Legislature, led by then-Sen. Dina Titus (now a congresswoman), passed a bill to restrict development, which stopped Clark County from approving development of the area.

Legal action was pursued by Rhodes against both the state and Clark County. A federal district judge ruled in favor of Rhodes, saying the Nevada Constitution prohibits local and special laws.

Clark County did not appeal, and agreement was reached that the county would not have to pay attorney fees. The state lost its appeal.

Stockton said the Los Angeles law firm got an “excellent result.”

He said the federal system allows $700 an hour in lawyer fees for these types of cases. But the state standard is $400 an hour.

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The state board also approved an $11.5 million contract for the nonprofit Rite of Passage to re-open and operate Summit View boys’ detention center in Las Vegas until Sept. 30, 2017.

Summit View is a reformatory for severe offenders who will be transferred from the Elko Youth Training Center in Elko. The 96-bed Las Vegas center was operated by the state but was closed because of a revenue shortfall during the economic downturn.

Rite of Passage will run the facility, providing security and treatments for drug abuse, mental health and sex offenders. In addition, it will provide education, vocational training and medical care.

The state will contract for 50 beds, initially permitting Rite of Passage to bring juvenile offenders from out of the state to fill the remaining beds. The facility is expected to open Oct. 15.

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