And They Built A Crooked House, by Ruth S. Martin



On August 8 we drove to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a much needed vacation. We actually managed to enjoy ourselves, although the house was never out of mind. How could it be? We had a million questions but no answers. Would Cooper respond to the lawsuit? Who would Murdock's insurer pick as lawyer, and what strategy would he (or she) try? Would the lawsuit be a catalyst for early settlement? We returned from vacation refreshed but also depressed over our situation. Over a year had passed since we called attention to the construction defects. Nothing had been accomplished after six months of expensive legal maneuvering. Despite thousands of dollars already spent on attorney and experts' fees, and months of frustration, our legal case was really just beginning.

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To our genuine surprise Cooper did respond to the lawsuit, but in a typically sleazy way. He first went to the litigator in Schroeder's law firm! Cooper obviously felt comfortable with this firm. After all, a year earlier he had not hesitated to use Schroeder for his own purpose. This litigator knew he could later be disqualified because of the obvious conflict, so before taking the case he called Baxter to ask if we had any objection; he would defend Cooper if there was none. We objected. Let Cooper find another lawyer. Cooper found Doug Webster, a young attorney Baxter had never heard of. Was he just out of law school? No one in Tom's firm knew him. At the least, Webster was not experienced in litigation. Our thought at the time: Cooper's new attorney must be less expensive than one from a known law firm. While we were in Hilton Head Murdock's insurer turned the file over to Harold Pierce, a senior litigator in one of the city's mid-sized law firms (about the size of Baxter's firm). Thus of the three defense lawyers only Pierce belonged to a law firm; both Webster and Collins (Nelson's lawyer) practiced solo.

Two more features distinguished Pierce from the other defense attorneys. He was the only one paid by an insurance company, so he had deep pockets with which to defend his client. And he was the only litigator or specialist in trial work. Our fantasy over this information was as follows: `At least one well-connected, expe-rienced litigator. This could be good for us. Pierce might use his resources to quickly substantiate our complaint and work for early settlement.' Unfortunately, our fantasy was just that. In fact Pierce may have been responsible for the year's nightmare that followed. As the lead attorney he did nothing (manifest to us) to resolve our case in an equitable manner.

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