Attorney A. Barry Cappello filed a lawsuit against City Hall charging that airport administrators unreasonably blocked the transfer of the restaurant lease from the High Sierra Grill—located on airport property — to Warren Butler, owner of the flight-themed Flightline Restaurant, who took over restaurant operations from High Sierra. Cappello charged airport administrators negotiated in bad faith with Butler, stringing him along while making bogus allegations about lease defaults, until he was forced to pull the plug on his restaurant.
Cappello, who enjoys the reputation as fearsome litigator, claims the city’s “unreasonable interference” in allowing the lease transfer to take place cost High Sierra Grill $1 million and Butler more than $5 million. He is demanding a jury trial and punitive damages as well.
Last time Cappello tangled with City Hall—over district elections—he wound up getting $800,000 in attorneys’ fees. Calls to city airport administrators were not returned by press time.
Although High Sierra secured a 10-year lease with three options to renew for five years each, it never succeeded, and City Hall wound offering operators a significant rent subsidy. Butler said he had secured half a million dollars from investors and could turn it around, but only if the lease transfer was approved. He claimed he was harassed by airport officials with not-picky objections to initiatives that actually made money, such as Comedy Night and Latin Nights. Armed security guards, he was told, would be required.
City Attorney Ariel Calonne offered only a general comment, stating, “I’m confident we acted in a commercially reasonable manner.”