Henderson settles lawsuit against would-be sports arena developer, but litigation continues

The city of Henderson has settled its lawsuit against would-be sports arena developer Chris Milam and an attorney who worked with him on the project.

But other people named by City Hall in the case still are negotiating a deal, and one of them claims the city has "disparaged" him "savagely."

Dennis Kennedy, a lawyer for the city, said at a hearing in Clark County District Court that Henderson officials signed a settlement Thursday morning with Milam and project lawyer John Marchiano, a former Henderson city attorney.

Terms of the deal with Marchiano were not disclosed. Milam, however, is barred from working on future developments in Henderson. His terms were announced at a court hearing Tuesday.

Land consultant Michael Ford and public relations-lobbying chief Lee Haney also were sued alongside Milam, but they still are trying to reach a settlement, lawyers said Thursday.

“At least for now, the litigation will continue,” Kennedy said.

District Court Judge Susan W. Scann scheduled a hearing for March 28 to get an update on those talks.

Reaching a settlement with Ford may not happen quickly.

In a written statement Thursday, Ford said he wants "the opportunity to speak the 'truth' related to my actions associated with" Milam's efforts to buy the 485-acre project site from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

But, according to Ford, the city's settlement terms would prevent him from speaking freely about the case.

"Now, after the City of Henderson has disparaged me, savagely, they are demanding that I give up my First Amendment Right and constitutional guarantees to speak out and voice my opinion, or criticize the government, regarding the City’s misconduct and actions in this case, or anything else," he wrote.

Ford, a partner with Henderson consulting firm Abbey, Stubbs & Ford, spent 25 years working for the BLM. According to the city's lawsuit, he tried to "pressure” the agency into transferring ownership of the project site to Milam's Silver State Land LLC.

Ford also allegedly “threatened” Henderson City Attorney Josh Reid in a Nov. 30 phone conversation. According to the lawsuit, he allegedly told Reid the city should not interfere with the land transfer and indicated there was nothing they could do to prevent the BLM from completing the sale.

City government spokesman Bud Cranor said in a written statement Thursday that the "language in the city’s settlement, and entered into by the other parties, is relatively standard mutual non-disparagement language and nothing at all that would prevent Mr. Ford from exercising his Constitutional rights.

"Mr. Ford had the same opportunity to settle as the rest of the parties and it was his choice not to do so," Cranor wrote. "We are very confident in the merits of our case against Mr. Ford and are certainly comfortable in moving forward with the litigation."

Milam laid out plans for an indoor arena and three stadiums near the M Resort as part of the Las Vegas National Sports Complex, though no teams committed to the facilities. The combined price was expected to be more than $1 billion.

Henderson on Jan. 28 sued Milam, his lawyers Marchiano and Christopher Stephens, as well as Ford and Haney. Instead of following through on their project plans, efforts were made to sell the land “piecemeal” to residential and commercial developers at a “substantial profit,” the lawsuit said.

Stephens paid $750 last month to settle the accusations against him.

As part of Milam’s settlement, lenders who planned to help him buy the project site essentially took over the project. They must pay the city $250,000 by 5 p.m. Friday to cover legal costs and effectively keep the deal alive, then pay City Hall another $4.25 million to close escrow on the land.

The escrow-closing date had been scheduled for March 28, but as part of the settlement, it was extended to May 13.

The project site is zoned for stadium or arena development. City Attorney Josh Reid indicated this week that Henderson officials are open to other commercial development there, but he ruled out single-family housing.

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