Friday, July 25, 2008

Hanks wins latest round in home construction dispute

Litigation involves right to inspect and right to bear arms


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Courtesy photo by Getty Images Actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. The Hollywood couple is involved in a long-standing dispute over alleged construction defects at the home they own north of Ketchum.

Just when you thought it was over: The latest round in the Tom Hanks and Storey Construction legal dispute involves allegations of evidence destruction and the right to bear arms.

Fifth District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee ruled in Hailey on Wednesday that he has no legal right to "referee" inspections by Storey of the Hanks' home north of Ketchum or to determine whether Hanks' guards can accompany the inspections locked and loaded.

"I have no authority over who wears a gun or who doesn't," Elgee said. "I don't want it to look like the wild west out there, but I have no authority over that."

Ketchum attorney Miles Stanislaw, who represents Storey construction, alleged later that the presence of guns during inspections is "totally unsafe, idiotic and outrageous."

"Would your honor allow guns at a deposition?" Stanislaw asked at Wednesday's hearing.

Stanislaw further argued that the inspections are necessary to prevent destruction of evidence at the Hanks home in ongoing litigation wherein Hanks has alleged that the home was built with "construction defects" and Storey has alleged "abuse of process" by the Hanks camp.

Los Angeles attorney John Hanover, who represents Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, argued that the Hollywood couple has the "right to protect their property."

"The guards always have guns. It's a private home," Hanover said.

Storey Construction, of Ketchum, completed the Hanks and Wilson home and its three surrounding guest cottages in 2002. In 2004, the American Arbitration Association ruled in Storey's favor in a dispute about construction defects at the property and Storey was awarded $1.85 million in contract balance and legal fees.

In November 2007 Hanks and Wilson filed a new arbitration claim alleging that latent construction defects had been discovered, primarily a leaking roof that they alleged caused interior damage. In December, Storey filed a lawsuit in 5th District Court seeking to nix the new arbitration and asking for unspecified monetary and punitive damages from Hanks and Wilson alleging abuse of process in the filing of the new arbitration claim.

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Elgee ruled in Storey's behalf in June and Hanks and Wilson promptly appealed the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court, where the case now sits along with the abuse of process claim that has yet to be ruled upon.

Because of the pending litigation, Storey showed up at the Hanks' home on July 2 accompanied by professional inspectors. They were met by an armed guard who was to accompany the inspection and by paperwork involving confidentiality agreements that Storey and company were required to sign. They declined, and Stanislaw took the matter back to court.

"My ruling at this point is that I can not be involved when there is no claim pending at this moment in this court," Elgee said Wednesday.

Stanislaw argued that the motion was filed to prevent "destruction of evidence" because the abuse of process claim is still pending and that the arbitration issue could end up back in 5th District Court if the Supreme Court overturns Elgee's earlier ruling.

"If I get that case back, I can tell you I will be refereeing the discovery process," Elgee said.

Stanislaw was not pleased with the ruling.

"Judge Elgee does not have the authority to prevent the destruction of property that is occurring at this property," Stanislaw said Thursday.

"Tom Hanks is hiding behind his notice of appeal to the Supreme Court to prevent Storey from gathering evidence for the abusive process claim," he said. "Tom Hanks' instructions to his security personnel to carry a gun and two clips of ammunition when Storey inspects is totally unsafe, idiotic and outrageous. This is real life with real bullets, not Hollywood where the guns shoot blanks."

42 West, a New York City public relations firm, issued a statement Thursday on behalf of Hanks and Wilson:

"We are happy the court rejected Storey's request to impose control over how we manage our own property.

"We are, and always have been, willing to accommodate reasonable requests to inspect our property for issues related to litigation. But this does not include harassment tactics that Storey has already attempted, like barging onto our property at 7 a.m. with five pickup trucks of people without any prior notice or permission. It also does not include intruding on or photographing areas of our property that have nothing to do with this case.

"Our home has been unsafe for years now. We have been living with an unsound roof and are anxious to get on with the repair work."




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