Landmark showdown: Minor, Danielson begin court fight
The legal fight over who's at fault in the unfinished Landmark Hotel project began in earnest March 12 when Judge Edward Hogshire heard arguments on motions in Landmark owner Halsey Minor's suit against the Landmark's former developer, Lee Danielson.
Minor–- who was not present at Thursday's proceedings–- won one and lost one in Charlottesville Circuit Court. Minor succeeded in adding Atlanta lender Silverton Bank as a defendant in the case, but his attorney failed to convince the judge to stop Silverton from foreclosing on the unfinished structure.
One hurdle Minor has recently been facing both inside and outside of courtrooms is the allegation, bolstered by about $60 million in suits over unpaid bills, is that his net worth–- once estimated around half a billion dollars– has recently been dealt a setback.
"They don't have a shred of evidence," Minor's Los Angeles-based attorney, Betty Shumener told the court, "that Halsey Minor's financial situation has changed."
Speaking from the bench, Judge Hogshire cited pending lawsuits against Minor from Merrill Lynch, Christie's, and Sotheby's, all of which allege that Minor is in serious financial trouble, and he denied the motion for a Temporary Restraining Order.
"In order for me to give you a TRO," Hogshire said from the bench, "the law says you have to be be likely to prevail on the merits of the case. From what I can tell, the foreclosure would seem pretty well founded."
Minor's suit alleges that Danielson and Silverton Bank "colluded" against him to prepare "deceptive constructive budgets" and that Silverton continues to encourage construction of an "unviable project."
Nevertheless, Shumener told the Hook after court adjourned that Minor very much wishes to see the Landmark Hotel to completion.
"It is still a viable project," said Shumener. "This suit is not an attempt to get out of ownership. Just the opposite, actually. We're trying to preserve the Landmark's reputation and finish the job."
In Thursday's pretrial motions, Shumener offered a preview of how she will eventually argue Minor's case, painting her client as a dutiful native son of Charlottesville trying to build a hotel despite the "fraudulent and conspiratorial" practices of a big bank.
"Our interest is more than monetary," Shumener said in court. "The Minor family is proud of their roots, and the Minor family still intends to revive this hotel. The bank," she added, "doesn't give a patoot about the property–- they just want the money."
How does Danielson, the California developer behind the Charlottesville Ice Park and the Downtown Regal Cinema, feel about the suit he's previously called "preposterous?"
"I'm frozen from making any more for-the-record comments," answered Danielson.
For its part, Silverton's Atlanta-based legal team kept its defense close to the vest. In response to Shumener's motion to prevent foreclosure, Silverton attorney Bob Albert simply stated, "We shouldn't have to submit any evidence to rebut this." Citing a bank policy to refrain from discussing pending litigation, Albert declined comment to the Hook.
Silverton has filed a $10.5 million suit against Minor in Fulton County, Georgia, alleging Minor has defaulted on his $23.6 million construction loan for the Landmark.
Judge Hogshire did not set a trial date for the suit, instead telling the parties that he was, "hopeful this can come to some happier conclusion."
If Minor's counsel's words are any indicator, that won't happen anytime soon. Asked where the case goes from here, Shumener said simply, "We will have our day in court."