Court temporarily blocks questioning of PR consultants in Harmon tower lawsuit

The Harmon at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011.

The Harmon - Oct. 2011

The Harmon at CityCenter in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The Nevada Supreme Court on Monday refused to let a contractor proceed with questioning set this week for public relations representatives hired by the owner of the flawed Harmon Hotel tower on the Strip.

CityCenter, half-owned by casino-resort company MGM Resorts International, asked the court to block the attorney-supervised questioning in the form of depositions and to cancel subpoenas issued to the outside public relations consultants, saying that they were hired by CityCenter attorneys for litigation purposes and that they have information protected by the attorney-client privilege.

Contractor Tutor Perini Building Corp., of Sylmar, Calif., maintains the PR consultants specializing in litigation strategy were hired for business reasons, not legal reasons, as part of a CityCenter plan to portray Tutor Perini as "the scum of the earth" to potential jurors.

A jury next year may decide who's to blame for flaws at the Harmon, a 26-story, $275 million hotel sitting empty and unused.

Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who is presiding over the massive lawsuit over Harmon defects and unpaid construction invoices, had sided with Tutor Perini in this dispute.

CityCenter filed an emergency appeal to block the depositions and subpoenas, and that was granted at least for now by the Supreme Court, which on Monday didn't comment on the merits of either side's case.

The court ordered that CityCenter create a "privilege" log of requested materials it contends is protected and provide it to Tutor Perini and to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez will then have to review the log and any disputed documents and then file an order on whether they should remain protected. CityCenter and Tutor Perini can then ask the Supreme Court to rule on anything they disagree with in Gonzalez's ruling.

The dispute over whether the public relations consultants with the firms Sitrick & Co. and GFBunting can be questioned by Tutor Perini and must turn documents over to the contractor is just the latest fight in a lawsuit dating to 2010 over the Harmon defects and CityCenter's refusal to pay Tutor Perini for $191 million it claims to be owed for work on the building.

Earlier in the lawsuit, Gonzalez ruled the Harmon could be imploded if that's what CityCenter decides to do for business reasons. It's unclear when that will happen, and Gonzalez hasn't ruled on whether flaws at the hotel were caused by CityCenter design flaws, contractor errors or both.