If every court case is a work in progress, questions posed in depositions can offer a glimpse at where an attorney is taking his or her case. In the deposition of Betsy Cowles taken last month, Gary Ceriani, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the federal case about the failing River Park Square parking garage, may have tipped his hand a bit. In earlier depositions, the document known as the Zimmer appraisal came up a couple times. But in Cowles' depo, Ceriani spent a lot of time on that document, suggesting he may rely on it to make his case.
In 1996, the River Park Square development team hired Derek Zimmer to do an appraisal of the garage to determine a potential price for the city to pay. Later, the city paid for two other appraisals. Ceriani, however, seems to be asking what good those two were -- the Barrett and Auble appraisals. After all, the price ultimately presented to the city ($29.79 million) came from Zimmer, not the others.
But the real trouble, Ceriani alleges, is that River Park Square never shared the details of the Zimmer appraisal with the city. And it wasn't included in the Official Statement, either. Cowles testified that she believed the city knew the contents of the report, although she said it might have been held back at first.
Ceriani: Now, there were some documents, however, that the developer did not share with the City, correct?
Cowles: Well, I'm sure there were -- yes, there were.
GC: In fact, one of those documents was the Zimmer appraisal, right?
BC: The Zimmer -- the City of Spokane knew about the Zimmer appraisal and knew the numbers in it. I don't have knowledge whether in fact whether or not someone with the City had a, had or saw a copy of the document.
GC: Did you have any reservation about providing a copy of the Zimmer appraisal to representatives of the City -- you personally?
BC: I recall believing that it was a work product, a proprietary work product of ours. And at that point in time in the project, I still believed that there was a private side of the project.
City officials have testified that they never were provided with a copy of that report. Les Weatherhead, attorney for River Park Square, says the city had a summary of it, knew its conclusion and the fact that Zimmer didn't rely on Walker. And Weatherhead points out that the ultimate price paid was negotiated down from the figure calculated by Zimmer.
Cowles agrees: "[Zimmer] was looking at a different number of seats [in the theaters], and he was not a parking expert. We shared all the relevant information with the city. If the city had asked for the document, I don't see why I wouldn't have given it to them."
The significance of the Zimmer appraisal to the plaintiffs is that it contradicted Walker. Zimmer didn't use Walker's projections, as the other appraisers did. Instead, he made a few calls on his own and put together a parking demand analysis all his own. Zimmer predicted significantly lower revenues than Walker, but he still arrived at the $29 million price using the investment value method.
Weatherhead says calling Zimmer a criticism of Walker is a stretch; they were just two different documents used to understand the project. "The sales price was negotiated; when you're bargaining, all kinds of information is used."
Still, in the effort to prove that there was information available to some or all of the development team that contradicted the Walker Report, it looks as if the Zimmer appraisal may be the plaintiffs' Exhibit A.