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Verdict Yields to Settlement Over County Concert Site

Courts: With jury decided but still mum, O.C. Fair Board accepts a payment from the company operating the Pacific Amphitheatre.

June 09, 1998|THAO HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The lawsuit that has kept the Pacific Amphitheatre closed for three years was settled late Monday just as jurors were about to reveal their verdict in the $12.5-million civil action.

But the Costa Mesa facility on the Orange County Fairgrounds isn't ready to book any acts yet. An Orange County Superior Court judge still must decide acceptable noise levels at the 18,500-seat concert venue.

The agreement between the Orange County Fair Board and the Nederlander Organization was kept confidential, but a fair board spokeswoman said the board received "a lump sum" payment.

The settlement, which ends seven weeks of trial, came after the jury had reached a verdict Monday but before it announced its decision.

Though the jury was dismissed without revealing its verdict, juror Rose Marie Maschhaupt of Costa Mesa said she and her fellow jurors had ruled unanimously for the board, agreeing to give it millions of dollars "in the two digits."

The fair board, which sued Nederlander three years ago, was elated by the settlement, said Becky Bailey-Findley, general manager for the theater.

"This will enable the fair board to make the Pacific Amphitheatre a community asset," she said. "And that was the goal all along."

Nederlander attorney Beau Miller, who maintained that his client did nothing wrong, also was pleased with the agreement.

"It's always best to have litigation settled," Miller said. "This is behind us. This is done. We're moving forward."

Nederlander, operating under a 40-year lease on the state-owned property, sold its business to the fair board for $12.5 million in 1993. The company had 30 years left on the lease, and the sale helped to resolve several lawsuits over the noise levels.

The board soon found that it couldn't bring in many performances that could operate under the noise limits that were part of the sale contract. The board sued, seeking to rescind the contract or receive damages.

The board alleged that Nederlander defrauded it by incorporating a sound covenant in the contract that was so restrictive that it made the amphitheater useless as a concert venue.

Moreover, the fair board alleged that Nederlander, which provides acts for the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim and the Greek Theatre in Hollywood, engaged in such a fraud so that the board wouldn't be able to compete with Nederlander's events at the Pond.

Nederlander has maintained that it didn't mislead the board about noise levels and, therefore, wasn't liable for any damages. The company argued that the board knew what the sound limits were when it bought the facility and simply was suffering buyer's remorse.

Lawyers on both sides didn't know the verdict before reaching a settlement. But they said they were encouraged to enter settlement talks after hearing questions jurors asked the judge during three days of deliberations. The mainly technical questions included some about the meanings of certain antitrust laws.

While Nederlander is now removed from the case, the board must continue litigating the noise levels with lawyers for about 5,000 homeowners who live within a mile of the outdoor theater.

Judge Robert E. Thomas ordered the lawyers back to court today to set a date for a hearing on the noise levels.

"There are no immediate plans to use the facility," Bailey-Findley said. "The fair board will take a hard look after all this is completely done and then determine how it will be used."

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