Long Beach

In an escalating dispute, the Harbor Commission this week directed its attorneys to notify a port law firm that it is not a proper port business and may be excluded from the harbor.

The law firm of Keesal, Young & Logan sued the city-run Port of Long Beach on Aug. 15, alleging that port officials had illegally blocked the firm's lease of a larger office building. The suit asks that the firm be allowed to move into the larger building and that the port pay at least $100,000 in damages.

On Monday, the Harbor Commission directed that the Keesal firm be notified it is in default on a lease of the 11,000-square-foot building it now occupies on Pier F.

"When they came here, the majority of their business was admiralty law; now they're saying only a third of it is," said James McJunkin, port executive director.

William Collier, a partner in the law firm, said, however, that the firm's maritime business has increased from about 25% eight years ago, when it moved to the port, to about 35% today. He said the issue never would have been raised if the law firm had not sued the city.

McJunkin and Richard Landes, a harbor department attorney, said that might be true. But Landes said the port needs to respond when it discovers that a harbor-based business is not "primarily" involved in maritime work.

In April, the Harbor Commission refused to allow the growing Keesal firm to assume the lease of Agrex Inc. of a 28,000-square-foot office building. Commissioners said the move did not fit into the port's master plan.

The Keesal firm filed an $8-million claim that the port denied and then filed suit.

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