A law firm representing a group of Tempe property owners fighting the planned Tempe Marketplace has dropped its clients after discovering a conflict of interest.
Members of the group said Fennemore Craig made their decision after learning they represent Dan Harkins, a major tenant of the planned $200 million project.
Harkins, who has been fighting to kill the rival Riverview at Dobson project in neighboring Mesa, plans to open a new movie theater in the Tempe shopping center.
"I don’t think they should have (declared a conflict)," said Del Sturman, a machine shop owner and member of the Tempe Property Owners Against Governmental Theft. "But I understand that money talks."
The move has left the group without legal counsel as the city prepares to condemn the properties of nearly 20 landowners who have refused to sell to developers Vestar Development Co. and Miravista Holdings.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge last month set a trial date of July 19.
On that date, Tempe will ask for possession of the property near Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive.
If the court grants the city possession then another hearing will be set to determine the sale price of the land.
Fennemore Craig had represented five of the area landowners.
The remaining property owners are represented by other attorneys and law firms.
Officials with Fennemore Craig said they have apologized to the property owners group and plan to refund their retainer fees.
John Pearce, an environmental attorney with Fennemore Craig, said conflicts often arise at large firms.
Meanwhile, Vestar announced this week that consultant Jason Rose would resign his duties on the Marketplace to focus on the "No on Riverview" campaign.
Rose, also a consultant for Harkins, has been working to spike the $143 million Mesa project that goes before voters May 17.
Rose, speaking Friday afternoon from Miami, Fla., said the move was prompted to avoid a conflict of interest.