Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Judge rules against Tom Hanks

Elgee declines to change prior ruling in house construction dispute

Express Staff Writer

A 5th District Court judge in Hailey has ruled against Tom Hanks once again in a longstanding legal dispute over alleged construction defects at the home the actor and his wife own north of Ketchum.

Judge Robert J. Elgee said in court Monday that he would not change his earlier ruling against Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, in which he determined that the matter was already legally settled in a 2004 ruling by the American Arbitration Association.

Hanks and Wilson have been embroiled in on-again, off-again legal battles with Storey Construction of Ketchum for the last five years.

In the latest court round, Hanks' attorney John Hanover alleged that new defects have been uncovered at the home that were not addressed in prior arbitration.

"In the process of doing repairs, we discovered evidence of clearly latent construction defects," said Hanover, of the Peckar and Abramson law firm in Los Angeles. "These could not have been known to the parties at the time the first arbitration occurred."

Hanover said some of the "hold downs," which are threaded metal rods that hold the building to its concrete foundation, were not properly connected.

Ketchum attorney Miles Stanislaw, who represents Storey Construction, argued that any unconnected hold downs were irrelevant because of design changes made after the home's concrete foundation was poured.

"There is nothing on the record to note that there is anything wrong with the structural integrity of the building," Stanislaw said.

Necessary or not, Elgee reiterated that the issue was already settled in arbitration.

"I'm not changing or overturning my prior ruling," Elgee said. "The issues were pleaded and foreclosed."

The Hanks and Storey Construction legal battle dates back to 2003 when Storey Construction filed a claim with the American Arbitration Association alleging that Hanks and Wilson still owed him money for construction of the home.

The Arbitration Association ruled in Storey's favor in 2004 and awarded the company $1.85 million in contract balance, interest and legal fees.

In November 2007 Hanks and Wilson filed a new claim with the arbitration association alleging that "latent construction" defects had been discovered after the earlier ruling. Storey filed a motion in 5th District Court in December seeking to nix the new arbitration.

Elgee ruled in Storey's favor in June, and Hanks and Wilson appealed the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. The case is still pending before the high court. Hanks and Wilson also filed a motion earlier this month asking Elgee to reconsider his ruling.

The parties were back in 5th District Court in July arguing over inspection procedures at the home while repairs were being made during the summer.

Elgee said at that time that the parties should work out an inspection protocol but that he had no authority to "referee" it because the matter was then in the hands of the Supreme Court. One of the issues at that time was whether Hanks' employees at the home could carry loaded guns during the inspection process. Elgee determined that he had no authority to prevent the guards from being armed.

Inspections by Storey Construction have since taken place, but have led to a new allegation by company owner Gary Storey and Stanislaw that Hanks' employees have been secretly recording conversations between Storey and his employees or hired experts, and between Storey and Stanislaw.

"I now have a letter where they admit to recording a conversation between Storey and his attorney," Stanislaw said following Monday's court hearing.

"I believe that the recordings are an egregious violation of the Idaho code of professional responsibility and disciplinary rules that govern the conduct of all lawyers in Idaho," Stanislaw said. "And if they fail to destroy the recordings and all the transcripts, then there will be a complaint filed with the Idaho State Bar."

Hanover scoffed at Stanislaw's allegations.

"I have no idea what he's talking about," Hanover said Tuesday. "I think it's BS. I could care less what conversations he has. What they think right now is irrelevant because what they say in three months will be different.

"The first I heard of it was yesterday. That's Miles' typical method. He will bring up something new at the hearing and the judge will ignore it."

Stanislaw raised the issue before Elgee on Monday but the judge declined to consider it.

"Good luck on the appeal, gentleman," Elgee said at the conclusion of Monday's hearing. "I think this closes out the hearings on this level."

Maybe, maybe not.

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