Irvine Co. loses suit, must pay $37.5 million

Times Staff Writer

Irvine Co. on Monday was ordered to pay $37.5 million to a San Diego developer for interfering in a San Diego land deal.

The company said it would appeal the verdict in San Diego County Superior Court, which came after six years of litigation.

Cisterra Partners' lawsuit accused Irvine Co. of interfering with the San Diego developer's planned purchase of a parcel of land in the city's Golden Triangle business district.

Cisterra representative Teresa Warren said Irvine Co. negotiated to be a joint venture partner with Cisterra to get inside information about the pending $14-million land sale, and then attempted to bypass Cisterra and reach a deal directly with the sellers at a higher price.

Cisterra's suit accused the Irvine landlord and developer of breach of contract, interference with prospective economic advantage and misappropriation of trade secrets. The jury found for Cisterra on the breach of contract and interference claims.

"We are elated that the jury saw this case for what it was -- an attempt by a major company to use its clout, position and our confidential information to interfere in a fair and equitable business agreement," said Todd Anson, co-managing director of Cisterra Partners.

Privately held Irvine Co., controlled by billionaire developer Donald Bren, is the largest landlord in Orange County and owns commercial properties in top California real estate markets.

"We are stunned with this verdict, which gives Cisterra Partners a wholly undeserved windfall on a complicated real estate transaction in which their own credibility and dealings are seriously in question," said attorney Christopher Garrett of Latham & Watkins, who represented the Orange County company.

"The Irvine Co. intends to appeal this decision and vigorously defend our actions and reputation," Garrett said.

The result would have been the reverse had the jury been allowed to hear details of a 2001 decision by a San Diego County Superior Court judge against Cisterra, in which Cisterra's legal interest in the property in question was denied, Garrett said.

The land near Nobel Drive and the 805 Freeway ended up being acquired by Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp. for about $30.5 million in 2001. The company, now named Biogen Idec, contracted with Cisterra to build a business campus there.


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