Judge tosses mall owner’s lawsuit
County judge dismisses appeal after Bahreini failed to comply with scheduling order
By Jeff Harrison
An Oklahoma County District judge has thrown out an appeal by the owner of the Heritage Park Mall challenging numerous citations issued by the City of Midwest City for the property.
Ahmad Bahreini challenged a Midwest City Municipal Court ruling that found him guilty of 17 code violations in March of 2018. The city issued 26 citations against Bahreini for fire and building code violations at the mall property, 6801 E. Reno Ave., and the adjacent former Montgomery Ward’s building, 6777 E. Reno Ave.
A trial was held in July and September of 2018 for the 26 charges. Judge David Howell found Bahreini guilty on 17 charges and not guilty on 9 of the charges. He ordered Bahreini to pay a $200 fine plus court costs for each of the 17 charges, except two which the fines were suspended.
Bahreini appealed the ruling in district court because the municipal court is not a court of record.
Judge Cindy H. Truong dismissed the lawsuit after Bahreini, or his attorney Danny Shadid failed to comply with the scheduling order.
In her order of “dismissal with prejudice” filed on Sept. 25, Truong said that the plaintiff/appellee failed to timely disclose witnesses and exhibits, failed to participate in the preparation of the pretrial conference, and failed to appear at the pretrial conference on Sept. 24. Truong said the scheduling order filed Oct. 15, 2019 specifically states consequences for noncompliance.
“…Failure to appear at Pretrial Conference may result in the entry of a… dismissal order, at the Court’s discretion, without further notice to the parties,” Truong said in the order.
Bahreini told the Beacon during a phone interview that he was unaware his attorney did not attend court hearing. He said he is seeking new legal counsel and could not comment further on the issue.
Heather Poole, city attorney for Midwest City, said the matter will return to municipal court and Bahreini will be responsible for the fines.
“The fines due will be determined by the city prosecutor,” Poole said.
The lawsuit is one of two filed by Bahreini against Midwest City. In February, Bahreini filed a civil suit alleging that Midwest City and city employees have interfered with ownership of the Heritage Park Mall and Montgomery Wards building and efforts to renovate the properties. He argues the actions have violated his rights under the U.S. and State constitutions.
The Edmond man filed a lawsuit in district court after city officials declared the property an “unsafe building” and requested that utility services be terminated from the property. He asked for an injunction to restore utility services, a restraining order against city employees to prevent them from terminating utility services in the future, as well as financial damages.
The lawsuit was later moved to federal court, and utility services were restored.
In the Sept. 1 order, Judge Joe Heaton agreed with Midwest City’s wish to dismiss Bahreini’s request for money damages but not the other state law claims against the city. Claims against individual employees who were acting in their “official capacity” were dismissed as redundant. State law claims against some city employees were also dismissed.
Last week, attorneys for Midwest City filed a motion to compel discovery in the federal lawsuit after they argue that Bahreini has not produced documents that he promised in May. In the motion, the city says they have made 12 follow-up requests for the documents since June 23. The city’s attorney also said that during a Sept. 29 phone call, Bahreini’s attorney told them that his client has failed to provide documents as previously promised.
City officials have been urging Bahreini to bring the property into compliance for several years. They notified him of the problems in November 2016. After seeing little progress, they started issuing citations in March 2017.
The city has also been pushing Bahreini to bring the property into compliance and find new uses and tenants. The city commissioned a feasibility study for the mall property that was completed in March of 2018. The study determined that mall property has potential but it needs creative and careful planning to make it a viable destination.
Bahreini says he does not have money to redevelop the building as the study suggested. He has told city officials that he is investing money and resources to restore the former shopping center, but continues to receive citations from the city.
The mall property is owned by three separate parties, which presents an added challenge for redevelopment. LifeChurch owns property on the west end of the mall and the City of Midwest City owns the former Sears store on the east end.
Bahreini owns the main portion of the mall. He bought the old Montgomery Ward building for $880,000 in 2004. He later bought the remaining mall property for $1.3 million in 2010.