Supreme Court justices yesterday heard oral arguments in a case that could pave the way for wireless operators to secure tower sites much more easily, but most observers indicate the high court likely will not make such a ruling.

In the case, a lower court has ruled that the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., wrongly denied a ham-radio operator a permit to erect an antenna in his back yard. The Supreme Court is reviewing an appeals court ruling that the operator should be allowed to recover attorneys’ fees and damages in excess of $15 million—more than the annual operating budget of Rancho Palos Verdes.

If the Supreme Court decides that attorneys’ fees and damages can be recovered, city officials will be much more hesitant to deny tower applications, according to a Legg Mason report released today.

“Even the prospect of being liable for attorneys' fees and damages, which can sometimes exceed a small city's annual operating budget, would sharply shift the balance of power in favor of the wireless industry, which could much more easily obtain the permits,” the Legg Mason report stated.

However, Legg Mason and others expressed the belief that the high court would not allow attorneys’ fees and damages to be recovered in such disputes.