A Bay Area casino magnate has won a whopping victory against his former attorney for allegedly spoiling his purchase of part of a San Jose card room.
A Sonoma County Superior Court jury announced a $47.4 million verdict for businessman John Park on Feb. 3. The jury found the defendant, Park’s former lawyer Tracey Buck-Walsh, acted with malice, oppression or fraud in interfering with Park’s contract to purchase a 50% stake in Casino M8trix in San Jose.
“I think the jury saw how I had been damaged by Ms. Buck-Walsh interfering with my contract in order to benefit the current owners of the Casino M8trix,” Park told San José Spotlight. Park is the owner of Parkwest Casinos, which operates casinos throughout the Bay Area and California.
Buck-Walsh did not respond to requests for comment. According to Park’s lawyer, Buck-Walsh has indicated she will appeal the verdict.
Casino M8trix, located near Mineta San Jose International Airport, is one of two card rooms in the city. Last year, San Jose voters overwhelmingly approved Measure H, which would have allowed casinos to increase the number of tables in exchange for paying more in taxes. The California Gambling Control Commission, which regulates casino licensing, ruled this might be illegal.
Park’s lawsuit is rooted in a complex business dispute that began in 2015 when he attempted to purchase half of Casino M8trix, which at the time was owned by Peter and Jeanine Lunardi and Eric Swallow.
Swallow had an agreement for Park to purchase his share in the casino. But the Lunardis, Swallow’s partners in the casino, blocked the sale and argued they had a legal right to try to purchase his share first.
“I thought it was a fair and just verdict,” Swallow told San José Spotlight, referring to Park’s suit against Buck-Walsh. He declined to comment further.
According to Scott Garner, Park’s litigation counsel, Park’s application to purchase a stake in the casino was also held up by lack of action from the gambling commission, which issues licenses and approves casino purchases. The commission ultimately approved the sale of 50% of Casino M8trix to the Lunardis and two new partners, Patrick and Jamie Tierney, in May 2017.
According to Garner, Lunardis’ attorney Buck-Walsh urged state gambling officials to not approve Park’s purchase. Buck-Walsh had previously represented Park, but they had a falling out, Garner said. He noted texts and emails revealed Buck-Walsh used knowledge she gained as his attorney to badmouth him and discourage the acquisition.
“I think the jury found the conduct of Tracey Buck-Walsh was in breach of any number of ethical obligations she had,” he told San José Spotlight. “You can tell they were probably offended by her conduct.”
Maureen Harrington, an attorney who represents Casino M8trix, Jeanine Lunardi and her deceased husband, Peter Lunardi, told San José Spotlight the casino has no comment about the case in Sonoma County.
“Peter and Jeanine Lunardi held a contractual right of first refusal to purchase all the shares in M8trix based on a contract signed in 2008 and they exercised that right,” Harrington said, adding two separate arbitrators agreed the Lunardis had a contractual right of first refusal, and a final judgment affirmed they properly exercised that right.
Park has a different lawsuit against the Lunardis that has been pending since 2017. Park alleges the Lunardis interfered with his contractual right to purchase Swallow’s shares. That case is scheduled to go to trial on July 18.