The city of American Canyon and Napa Valley Casino are close to a deal in their long-running legal battle, attorneys for both sides said in court Thursday.
Appearing in Napa County Superior Court before Judge Michael S. Williams, William Ross, city attorney, said the American Canyon City Council met in special session twice this week after the criminal trial for nonpayment of a $2-per-visitor admission tax that was scheduled to start last Monday was postponed.
A third special closed-session meeting was scheduled for Friday, Ross said.
Appearing for the defense for the first time, Vallejo attorney Thomas Gill said he and the defense team had presented a formal agreement for consideration by the city earlier that day.
However, if the city chose, Gill said he was prepared to go to trial “right now.”
Ross said there were still complex issues to address, but he conceded a settlement may be at hand. “I think (council members) are very close (to an agreement), but beyond that I can’t disclose,” he said.
The judge asked both parties if the court could assist in settling the dispute. Would it help to have a retired judge act as a mediator, Williams asked?
Gill said if an agreement wasn’t imminent, the defendant wanted a speedy trial. Gill said he was “90 percent” sure of an acquittal by a jury. Given the length of the dispute, Ross said efforts should focus on reaching a resolution.
The card room has been fighting the city over the voter-approved admission tax since the measure passed in 2010. The city filed a misdemeanor criminal complaint against the card room in 2011, asserting that the casino had violated the Municipal Code by not paying the admissions tax.
The card room then sued the city in civil court, contending that the tax was illegal.
The civil case has been on hold while the criminal prosecution has taken precedence. Any agreement would have to cover both cases, Ross said.
Repeated attempts by defense attorneys to quash the case — including a petition for review by the state Supreme Court — have failed.
“I won’t say again ‘this is just a misdemeanor,’” Ross said. “Suffice it to say it’s not a simple misdemeanor.”
If both the criminal and civil cases proceeded to trial, the matter could go on for one or two more years, Ross said.
“Everybody wants a settlement, I think,” Williams said. He characterized the dispute as “unpleasant and expensive.”
Williams scheduled another pretrial hearing for March 25 and set the criminal trial to begin April 8 should the sides not reach agreement.