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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2003


Tom Hanks threatens builder with ‘astronomical’ lawsuit

Express Staff Writer

Hollywood couple Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have threatened a Ketchum contractor with a multi-million-dollar, invasion-of-privacy lawsuit after he sued them to collect on an allegedly unpaid $1.75 million construction bill.

Storey Construction Inc., which built the couple’s home north of Ketchum, filed the suit Jan 3 in Fifth District Court in Hailey. In a brief filed Thursday, Storey’s attorney, Miles Stanislaw, stated that his client has not been informed of the reasons for the defendants’ alleged refusal to pay the bill, which was for additional work done on the home.

According to Storey’s court complaint, the home includes several guesthouses, a swimming pool, a tennis court and 11 acres of landscaping. The firm completed its work there on Nov. 14.

During a court hearing Friday, Hanks and Wilson’s Hailey attorney, Ned Williamson, sought for the second time to have the court file sealed. The matter was left unresolved due to procedural deficiencies.

However, Williamson told the court that the July 2000 construction contract requires confidential, binding arbitration of any dispute. One of the purposes of that provision, he said, was to keep Hanks and Wilson’s names and address out of the courts. Williamson contended that Storey’s filing of its suit constitutes a breach of the contract.

Stanislaw stated in his brief that he had received a six-page letter dated Jan. 4 from Hanks and Wilson’s Boise attorney, Geoffrey J. McConnell, threatening to sue Storey.

"If your client does not immediately stipulate to sealing the record in the Hanks/Wilson matter, and additional media catches wind of this lawsuit resulting in the publication of my clients’ address or otherwise enabling stalkers to find our clients, both you and your client will face liability and damages …" the letter states.

"If our clients are physically or emotionally harmed in any way by Storey’s reckless actions, all responsible parties will be liable for invasion of privacy, breach of confidence, reckless endangerment and a host of other causes of action, and the damages associated therewith will be astronomical."

"…if an injury—or even a real threat of injury—occurs to Mr. Hanks or to his family as a result of the disclosures in Storey’s complaint, Mr. Hanks’ ability and freedom to work will be greatly affected. Given that Mr. Hanks makes millions of dollars per picture, the potential damages to you and your client would be tremendous."

The letter states that the filing of the suit had caused Hanks and Wilson to take additional, expensive security measures.

It also contends that Storey filed a lawsuit, rather than relying on confidential arbitration, to pressure the couple into a settlement.

The suit is the second that has been filed on the matter. The contract to build the couple’s home was between Storey and trust formed for that purpose, which Stanislaw called an "alter ego" for Hanks and Wilson. An earlier suit naming the trust as defendant was filed Dec. 12, but included a request for a stay of the proceedings pending an attempt at arbitration.

In court Friday, Stanislaw said Hanks and Wilson’s attorney had declined his request for arbitration. As a result, he said, he filed the second suit against Hanks and Wilson personally.

A brief filed by Williamson on Thursday, however, contends that Hanks and Wilson accepted a Dec. 30 demand for arbitration.

"Therefore, the action at bar—which was filed less than a week thereafter—should never have been filed," the brief states.

It adds that trust was created to avoid any public disclosure of Hanks and Wilson’s address, and that the contract describes the project as "Church Camp 2." During a court hearing on Jan. 10, Stanislaw agreed to keep the address confidential, but opposed sealing the entire file.

"The mere fact that Mr. Hanks is a celebrity does not and should not entitle him to special treatment that would not be afforded to a local insurance broker, school teacher, dentist, mechanic, store clerk, rancher or ski instructor that was sued for collection of a debt," Stanislaw wrote in his Jan. 23 brief.

The brief states that subcontractors and suppliers who are still owed money for the job have a right to remain informed as to the suit’s progress. In court Friday, Stanislaw said those debts amount to about $700,000.

He also contended that like many other celebrities, the couple has made no effort to live a secretive life here, and did not rely on the trust to do business related to the construction project.

"Wilson regularly came to this construction site, ordered changed work (and) ordered additional work," he said.

The defendants’ effort to seal the file was left inconclusive Friday after it became apparent that no motion had been made to do so. Williamson said he had only recently taken over the case, and stated in his brief that the previous attorney, McConnell, had not filed motion papers due to Storey’s refusal to commit to keeping their contents confidential. Judge James May told Williamson he would reconsider the matter if Williamson files a motion.

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