On the campaign trail, Democratic attorney general candidate Aaron Ford has sought to portray himself as a staunch opponent of President Donald Trump.
But seven years ago, Ford had a very different relationship with the future president — serving as an attorney for one of Trump’s Las Vegas businesses in a complex property rights lawsuit.
According to court records, Ford was one of five attorneys contracted to represent Trump Ruffin Tower I, LLC — the entity that owns the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas — in a 2011 property case alleging Trump engaged in “unscrupulous practices” to induce buyers to purchase units at the hotel at an inflated price. On his 2017 financial disclosure form, Trump listed himself as the President and Director of the entity — which he funded with Treasure Island CEO Phil Ruffin — between 2005 to January 19, 2017.
Ford’s involvement in the case, which has not been previously reported, came during his time as an associate attorney with the law offices of Snell and Wilmer, where he specialized in “commercial litigation and dispute resolution, with an emphasis in contract and real estate disputes, employment law and public/education law.”
Ford, now a partner at Eglet Prince, is the Democratic state Senate majority leader. He has been a consistent critic of Trump both before and throughout his campaign for attorney general, hinting that he would involve Nevada in various lawsuits against the administration on health care, reproductive rights and voting rights.
But seven years ago, Ford and other attorneys at Snell and Wilmer defended Trump’s property in a lawsuit that sought to overturn an arbitrator’s decision preventing 300 buyers from backing out and receiving a refund of their initial deposits for luxury condominium purchases at Trump’s Las Vegas property.
Asked if the candidate regretted representing Trump, Ford’s campaign manager instead pivoted to Republican candidate Wes Duncan’s support of Trump and declined to speak to any specifics of the case.
“Trump Ruffin Tower 1 was a client of Snell & Wilmer and Aaron Ford was assigned to this case, several years before the 2016 election, but Ford believes Donald Trump is creating chaos and confusion in Washington that is hurting Nevadans,” his campaign manager Jessica Adair said in a statement. “His actions need to be checked, and that is what Aaron Ford will do as Attorney General.”
The initial complaint said that Trump took full advantage of the booming real estate market in 2006 to heavily promote the condominium units, claiming the developer and future president used the situation to “manufacture a purchasing frenzy” by claiming the units were close to selling out and “rapidly rising” in price.
“None of these reports were true,” the complaint states. “Trump’s repeated claim that units were selling out was based on nothing more that non-binding reservation forms signed by prospective purchasers.”
Most of the unit sales happened between 2005 and 2007, and a group of buyers sought to back out of the deal once the economy began tanking. Trump told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in October 2008 that he had “never seen anything like it” amid news that only 21 percent of the 1,284 condos at his recently-opened property had closed. “Historically, the banks will call me and beg for end loans. But they don’t do that anymore because the banks are really out of business.”
The complaint — which references a sealed deposition with Trump — claims he admitted the purchase agreement was “one-sided” and “presented on a take-it-or-leave-it bases” to prospective buyers. The complaint stated that Trump made “material misrepresentations” about the units, saying they were smaller and closer to the ground than advertised in a building eight stories smaller than they had been led to believe, and that the purchase agreement waived their right to a jury trial, no right of notice and cure in the event of a default and giving Trump the ability to terminate the agreement without prior notice if the buyers failed to “timely” pay a deposit or close on the agreed date of closure.
But the 2011 case in District Court avoided those issues and instead focused the 2010 decision of an arbitrator in Trump’s favor that found the buyers couldn’t get out of the purchase contracts and get a refund of the deposits.
In their response brief, attorneys for Trump said the references were “alleged fraudulent actions” not pertinent to the facts of the case, and that the plaintiffs were seizing on a “novel claim” as a form of “buyer’s remorse” to get out of purchases for the condominiums. They wrote that the buyers failed to demonstrate that the arbitrator “manifestly disregarded” the law in their decision, the threshold needed for a judge to reverse the decision.
Ford’s involvement in the case includes filing a supplemental brief submitted to the court that highlighted a substantially similar case where a separate District Court judge had denied a request to revise a decision made in arbitration related to refunding deposits made on purchase agreements for a luxury condominium.
Ultimately, District Court Judge Gloria Navarro sided with Trump, saying that the highlighted “fundamental disagreements” between the plaintiffs and arbitrator did not rise to the level required for a judge to reverse the arbitrator’s decision.
“Plaintiffs might not agree with that interpretation of the contractual language, but mere disagreement with an arbitrator’s contractual analysis is not sufficient to warrant vacatur,” she wrote.
Eric Trump, an executive at the Trump Organization and the president’s son, told the Las Vegas Sun after the ruling that the decision would have a “crippling effect” on what he called frivolous “buyers’ remorse” lawsuits and arbitration hearings.
Although the case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court, the plaintiffs themselves moved to dismiss the case in November 2011.