Appeals court holds off on Goodman bias case

Court wants more information before hearing city appeal

The Minnesota Court of Appeals asked for more information before it would review a September district court ruling that City Council Member Lisa Goodman’s bias denied a developer his rights.

Judge Stephen Aldrich ruled in September that Goodman (Ward 7) failed to remain impartial during the “quasi-judicial” review of a proposed 2004 Loring Park development. Aldrich found Goodman had a “closed mind” when considering developer Brad Hoyt’s proposal for Parc Centrale, a 21-story residential tower.

In briefs due to the appeals court by Oct. 13, attorneys on both sides will address two issues.

One is whether the city’s appeal can be heard now, before the district court case is concluded. The city’s appeal halted a hearing on damages, during which Hoyt’s attorneys planned to seek $17 million from the city.

The other issue is at the core of the city’s appeal.

Hoyt brought three claims to district court, and Aldrich sided with the city on two of them. Aldrich found city planning staff based their recommendation to deny Parc Centrale on the facts.

But he said Goodman’s efforts to rally Loring Park residents and fellow Council members against the project essentially denied Hoyt his constitutional right to due process.

Attorney Charlie Nauen, who represented the city in the lawsuit, said Hoyt couldn’t claim he was denied due process while a court case —one part of that process — was ongoing.

“You don’t just pick a piece of the process out and say, ‘Aha, we think we were treated unfairly there,’” Nauen said.

Meanwhile, Hoyt attorney William Skolnick has said problems for Goodman and the city might go beyond this one case. The allegations rankled Nauen and City Attorney Susan Segal.

In finding Goodman was biased against the Parc Centrale project, Aldrich cited a trove of emails recovered by a forensic computer expert hired at Hoyt’s expense. Aldrich called it “troubling” the e-mails between Goodman and constituents weren’t disclosed by the city earlier.

Skolnick predicted a county or U.S. attorney investigation would follow the case. He also said Goodman could face perjury charges due to inconsistencies in her testimony.

Segal dismissed the perjury claim, saying it hinged on an obvious misstatement made by Goodman during her pre-trial deposition.

“It’s a silly thing,” Segal said. “It is not perjury, and it was irresponsible of Mr. Skolnick to make that allegation.”

Nauen added that the city complied with court orders to turn over electronic evidence, efforts that were reflected in the court record. The talk of an investigation was an attempt to “poison the well,” he said.

“These issues have been discussed in open court too,” he said. “There’s a very simple and straightforward responses to all this stuff.”