Wood blames Bridgeport jury for 'sticking it' to Mammoth

In sorting out the history of the town’s path toward a near-crippling $29.4 million, 23-year legal settlement, Mammoth Councilman Rick Wood said a big chunk of blame should go to North Mono County.

With Terry Ballas and MLLA having successfully moved the original breach-of-contract civil case from Mammoth to Bridgeport, North County jurors “stuck it” to Mammoth, then celebrated afterward, Wood said.

“There was one South County member of the jury, and it happened to be someone I know very well, and I also know, not from that person, that there was a party that was put on by the foreman of the jury after the verdict, celebrating—celebrating!—that they had stuck it to the Town if Mammoth Lakes,” Wood said.

Wood’s remarks came in response to a question from the floor at the special Town Council meeting on Sept. 27, during which the terms of the settlement payment were announced.

As a result of the judgment, then ultimately the settlement, Mammoth will lose 13 personnel positions, seven of them police officers, according to a first draft of a long list of austerity measures.

Whether that is the final draft of the butcher’s bill is hard to say. Mammoth has until late December to figure out a plan that would allow for a $2 million-a-year payment over the next 23 years. It has invited the community’s buy-in, starting Wednesday evening, Oct. 3, at the regularly scheduled Town Council meeting.

To Wood, much of the blame for the morass lies squarely at the feet of the Bridgeport jurors, who bought the notion that Ballas and MLLA stood to lose $40 million as a result of not building his condo/retail complex on a 25-acre parcel of land at the airport.

“Those of us who have been here for a while, even a short while, know there's a North County, South Country Divide,” Wood said. “It's been there for a long time. We try to bridge it and close that gap between North and South County.

“I don't know what was going on in the minds of those jurors, but they bought an expert's opinion that there were damages that were suffered as the result of the town's failure to abide by the terms of its agreement.

“They believed that the town signaled, that apparently, it was going to reject whatever Terry Ballas put forward.”

But Wood said he rejected that idea then and stands by his judgment to this day: that the town had given no such signal and that it was willing to negotiate with Ballas and MLLA.

“I'm not trying to justify anything; I'm not trying to be cavalier about what happened, and frankly, at trial, they out-experted us. They believed their experts (the MLLA and Ballas experts) who told the jury that his damages were $40 million—that he would have made $40 million over 10 years.”

Asked, again from the floor, if the project had actually gone through, was it not reasonable to expect Ballas and MLLA who would be knocking on a bankruptcy court’s door instead of the other way around, Wood said,

“That would be a reasonable speculation.”