A former Utahn who is now serving as a U.S. ambassador in Africa will not have a chance to go before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue a nearly $9 million settlement his company has been ordered to pay two former business partners.

Fairfax Realty Inc., headed by John Price, a business magnate responsible for several major malls in the West and a major supporter of President Bush's 2000 presidential campaign in Utah, was found to have tricked a New Mexico couple out of about $1 million as the three partnered to build a mall in Clovis, N.M.

A jury in spring 2001 awarded Armand and Virginia Smith of Clovis $6.5 million in damages as well as interest and attorneys fees, which have brought the total to more than $8.7 million.

The company lost an appeal of the award before the Utah Supreme Court in October 2003. Earlier this month, Price filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the arguments in a one-sentence order. The effect is that the state Supreme Court's ruling will stand.

Bush named Price as ambassador to Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Comoros Republic, islands in the Indian Ocean, after his original trial. Price handled the Bush campaign's finances in the state and contributed $471,550 of his own money to the 2000 campaign.

Le Mauricien, Mauritius' largest newspaper, in October called for Price to resign, partly because of the state Supreme Court's ruling against him and also because he skipped the inauguration of the country's new president and left early from a ceremony celebrating the prophet Muhammad's birthday.

The damages stem from a business deal Price entered with the Smiths via his Fairfax Realty Inc., formerly Price Development Co., to build a shopping mall in Clovis. The company also built Holladay's Cottonwood Mall.

Jurors found that Price conveyed the mall partnership to his own investment trust without the Smiths' consent and then sold the stock for more than $100 million. He then paid the Smiths only $6,160 for their interest, which was eventually determined to be worth more than $1 million.

Price's attorney, James Jardine, said he believes "we raised good issues," but that the court can hear only a fraction of the petitions it is presented with. He said the appeals process in this case is over.

Fairfax Realty issued a statement, saying it was "naturally disappointed" but emphasized that Fairfax was the defendant in the judgment and that "none of Fairfax's individual officers or employees was found liable of any wrongdoing."

"While Fairfax believes this case was a simple business dispute between it and two individuals in a partnership, Fairfax respects the legal system and will proceed to satisfy its obligations under the judgment," according to the statement.

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Robert S. Campbell, the Smiths' attorney, said the couple was "elated" with the ruling.

"The case has been in the courts nearly 10 years, and the result reaffirms our abiding belief in the judicial system," he said.

He pointed to the fact that the high court took only 19 days to deny Price's petition, while it usually takes such petitions under advisement for months, as indicative that the justices didn't give Price's arguments much credence.

E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com

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