Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Law of Paper

At one time I worked in contracts for a major construction firm - at the time one of the five biggest in the nation. Every contractor we hired had to sign a contract that exceeded 100 pages at a minimum. General Conditions (that section which generally says it is our football and our field and we get it our way) ran 64 pages all by itself.

The most important think I learned dealing with contracts was that the last piece of paper was the right piece of paper. So every dispute with a contractor required a letter beginning with the per-our-conversation-of epistle. Whatever a contractor claimed we had to counter with our version and within a few days. Our hope was that they would not counter what we claimed. That made us right, because to not refute our last letter made that letter law.

I try to follow that bit of wisdom in my personal life. But when you are dealing with issues you are personally involved in it can become a bit more difficult. Still I write letters. All the time I write letters.

Yesterday I got to look through two years of documents I had saved on the contractor-from-hell issue. I wrote letters. He didn't. I wanted someone to declare me winner right that moment. Doesn't happen. As I sat in the legal aid office conference room and sorted through my almost three inches of paper I got to relive the emotional involvement behind those pieces of paper. I was stating in each my personal truth and he never countered it. He just went for a lawyer who typed up his lies in a lawsuit and fired it back at me and my legal aid attorney. We fired our truth back.

Tentatively the trial is set for January 20, 2010. He is asking for $21,623 approximately plus legal fees estimated at $16,000. We were originally arguing over $9000. At the time, had he given me the documentation I requested, I would have given him $4000 to just go away. I figured I had already overpaid him $17,000 give or take a thousand or two. I was shocked when the lien on my property was over double what I had been billed for. That shock was on top of the fact the studio had already cost me twice his initial per square foot estimate - a third over his modified estimate for an unfinished addition.

I think he violated mechanics lien law in placing the lien. But now he wants to foreclose on my house and sell it out from under me for a tiny fraction of its worth. Meanwhile the lawyers have just begun generating more paper. So since I had my side organized and copied for my attorney I put it into a fold out folder with 12 slots (debated getting the 26 slot version at Wal-Mart) so from here on out I can keep it organized.

My mistake was considering that he would see the error of his ways. But since he was crazy enough to think himself right in the first place it was stupid of me to think he or his attorney (paid to take his side) would have an ah ha moment and drop it.

My attorney asked if he had a drinking problem. The contractor or the lawyer, I asked.


  1. Oh Jacqui, this really is a serious matter. I'm sure pulling for you. It must be a terribly stressful time for you. Hopefully he will come to his senses. Of course, the lawyers win either way. They always get paid.

  2. I thought as much when I saw what you had been up to with your lawyer. But I never for one moment thought that he would up the stakes. Why is this??

    I simply cannot see how you don't have a case here. Justice must prevail. I know it's easy to say that but when you take everything and every piece of information into consideration, surely any sane human being including the judge, must see that his argument is just not feasible.

    Maybe, just maybe he is seeing how far he can go?

    I know that you are going to get even more stressed as the weeks go on but doesn't your lawyer think that you will win this? How will you feel if he is awarded the original amount and it is left there?

    This is so damn unnecessarily complicated. The fact that you are dealing with a totally ignorant and unfeeling man does not help. Contractors the world over are hell. I went through a contractor trying to sue us after he overran on our house by 9 months. His lawyer eventually dropped the case.

    Is it possible that this man wants your property and has no intention of selling it should he win?

    Stay brave and strong.
    Can you talk this out of court?

  3. Oh dear this does not sound like fun. I had a neraly legal wrangle with Virgin Mobile earlier this year but the amounts that were in dispute ($500 plus a few thousand in projected legal fees) were tiny compared to yours. Plus I don't have a house to lose. But even so I lost a fair bit of sleep for a few weeks and suffered through nearly a year of angst in relation to it. 2 things to note though:
    I won. Like you I felt that the enemy were being unreasonable. I stuck to my guns, lodged a complaint with the ombudsman, avoided court action, and they admitted defeat.

    The second thing to note pertains to a conversation I had with a lawyer years ago. I had gone to this man to consult over whether or not I should sign what I thought was a dodgy contract. He said it WAS dodgy and advised me not to sign. His next words have stuck in my brain ever since. He said that it was normal for lawyers like himself (he was volunteering on his day off at a community legal centre, bless him) to take the money of clients just like your contractor and just like the dude who'd written my dodgy contract who don't have a hope in hell of winning in court and to egg those clients on to more and more legal action in the hope of getting more fees (regardless or not of whether the client wins of loses). I hope, in a way, that this is the case with you - surely this contractor doesnt actually have a hope of winning. He sounds insane as well as unprincipled. He is being taken to the cleaners by a lawyer even more unscrupulous than he is (I hope). Instant karma? I hope so.

  4. Oh God! I just remembered - mercury goes retrograde on September 6. No wonder you want to stay in bed for the next 3 weeks.

    here's the interesting thing though - my Virgin Mobile mess started when I went into a contract with them during a Mercury retrograde period during 2008 (no surprises there). However it was finally resolved during a Mercury Retrograde period this year. I think one of the characteristics of Mercury retrograde is that it can bring communication nasties back a second time for a review. Maybe this retrograde period will give you a chance to catch this contractor fool on a second journey through the loop, get him (or others) to review things and resolve it.

    Anyway the contractor will also be afflicted by mercury retrograde nonsense. And he is silly and unreasonable, whereas you are not. All you have to do is last the 3 weeks. he is the one treading on moral and cognitive quicksand - I reckon he is the one who is actually in more danger at this interesting time.

  5. Good comments, Meredith. And I do believe you are right about lawyers. Interestingly enough he is not making mumblings about going to settlement on this. I offered arbitration before the lawyer filed the suit and he frankly turned it down. The judge we are going before ultimately does not like people that refuse arbitration.

    Oh, and Becky, since you are remodeling your kitchen all I can say is friend or no friend get it all in black and white and notarized.

  6. The judge we are going before ultimately does not like people that refuse arbitration.

    That can only be a good thing.

    When I read Meredith's blog on Mercury I commented that you needed to know about this. I am not a chappy camper with this news because things are fraught as it is and I have a Symposium to pull off the weekend of the 12/13th! That's why I've been so quiet everywhere!

  7. Lawyers should be buried 35 feet underground since, deep down, they are very nice people.

    Sanford Sherizen


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