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



December 1987 was a month of despair. A third pretrial hearing was held December 7. A few days before, Pierce and Collins each sent Baxter a letter. Now the true character of the defense was showing. Pierce's December 4 letter is a remarkable document. It showed that Pierce either did not understand the case or suggested some-thing far worse. One hesitates to use the word `stupid'; a senior litigator in a major law firm would hardly fit the dictionary definition. Pierce's letter revealed a trait more sinister than stupidity: a combination of ignorance and arrogance. He wrote:

Having inspected the house in detail on November 13 and having had the opportunity to discuss the matter with Mitch Anderson that day and thereafter, I am very surprised by your clients' total rejection of the Joint Proposal. It is unbelievable that your clients have done nothing since March 9, 1987 to mitigate the damages against [Murdock] ...especially when all of the alleged construction defects could have been remedied within a week.

Did Pierce have a copy of Ralph the contractor's estimate, which stated it would take over $100,000 and three months to fix our house? (Yes). Did he read it? (Doubtful). Did he have a different written estimate from Anderson or anyone else? (No). Did he have a structural engineer's report from Anderson? (No). At that point did he understand the case against Murdock? (Doubtful). The let- ter from Nelson's lawyer Mike Collins was no better. He wrote:

[Nelson] did not have notice of the alleged defects until he received a copy of Mr. Russell's letter late in April. At the meeting of May 12, 1987, Mr. Nelson brought a sketch of what [he] proposed to do at his expense to resolve the structural questions. After making the offer [sic], the proposal was reviewed with Bill Sloan and based on his recommendation, Nelson agreed to extend the joist packing another span. Both my client and I resent your continuing refusal to recognize that an offer was made.

Did Collins have a copy of Nelson's letter to us about the "alleged defects," a letter dated January 9, 1987? (He should have). Did Collins know that Nelson made several visits to the house about these defects, all before March 1987? (He should have). Did Collins know that no written offer was ever made before the suit was filed? (Of course). Did Collins know that he never spoke about any offer to our attorney? (Of course). One can appreciate why the suit wasn't being settled. The defense lawyers hadn't done their homework and (apparently) didn't know the history before the lawsuit was filed. Nor did they under-stand the nature of the construction defects. (An alternative explanation is that they knew and understood everything, but wrote distortions to delay the case and build up legal fees).

As expected, the December 7 pretrial changed nothing except that we did secure a trial date: April 11, 1988. And our Judge decided he would visit the house. According to Baxter, this was unusual so many months before a trial. The Judge planned to come December 16 but a snow storm made him cancel at the last minute. The visit was rescheduled for January 8. Because of the holidays there would be no developments for another two weeks. On Christmas day, recounting events of the past 12 months, we wrote in our journal:

This is it. This is the nadir. The year is ending and it has gone from bad to worse. They have denied practically everything....To date we have spent roughly $16,000 on just legal and consulting fees, and starting next month, with depositions, it will grow to thousands more. Trial is scheduled for April 11, 1988. Words can't express what we have been going through. The total frustration coupled with a sense of moral outrage. The sense of loss. The feeling of helplessness. It is the material equivalent of rape. This is how wars start. In a less civilized world, where courts did not offer even the hope of redress, there would be physical violence over this. These irresponsible men have disfigured our home, our lives, our sensibilities. It is hard to imagine a worse set of conditions for a new home buyer. This experience has so overshadowed our no year of our marriage has any event so utterly dominated our days...

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