In the case of MTA vs. Tutor-Saliba

Now that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has spent 15 years fighting the giant engineering and construction contractor Tutor-Saliba-Perini, staff writer Gabe Friedman asks a reasonable question in Friday's L.A. Daily Journal: what price is too high for a legal victory?

As of two months ago, according to an internal county document provided to the Daily Journal, the MTA has spent $32 million litigating the case over the years, even though its alleged losses totaled about $10 million, and its potential recovery now stands at far less because court rulings have reduced the claims. A mediator recommended nearly a decade ago that it could be settled for $7 million.

However, the MTA has prevailed in two previous trials of the case. While the agency acknowledges the high cost of the litigation, it maintains it must see the case through to deter "dishonest contractors" from cheating it out of scarce taxpayer resources needed for critical infrastructure projects. Though it could simply bar Tutor-Saliba from bidding on its projects, several people familiar with the matter, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to appear to litigate the case in the media, said the board wants a judicial ruling that would have a more punishing effect.

The stakes could not be higher for Tutor-Saliba: A jury ruled in 2006 that the company violated the False Claims Act, a finding that could land it on a black list barring it from doing business with government agencies, both locally and nationally, unless the case is settled to avoid such a final judgment.

The fact that a third trial looms next month "illustrates how extreme enmity can develop between courtroom adversaries over years of litigation," says the DJ.

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