End of the Story
After Tom's letter was mailed and the third potential buyer backed out, the selling strategy changed. In November 1989 the asking price was dropped from $398,000 to $369,000, and we heard no more about Cooper's lies or his outrageous letter. Presumably the letter was discarded in favor of a more honest approach. In March 1990 Cooper finally sold the house. The buyers made no attempt to contact us. We do not know the selling price or special terms, if any, of the deal. Nor do we know if Cooper fixed the house properly before the new owners moved in. If he did, then they should have a lovely home.
During 1989 I wrote a magazine article about our experience, which was published in Medical Economics in January 1990 ("The Judge Called Our House a Fiasco"). Although ME is aimed at phy-sicians the articles are kept very simple and brief, with emphasis mainly on financial matters. The article was submitted well before the events of late 1989, and its publication only increased my desire to tell the whole story, the true story, from beginning to end.
In April 1990 we received an unexpected legal bill from Tom's firm for $1900. The document we had signed before the October 1988 trial put us on a contingency arrangement but also obligated us to pay expenses advanced by the law firm in preparation for the trial. The bill was for copying costs, computerized legal searches, and photographs used at trial. We called Tom. "Why did you wait so long to bill us?" "I never closed out your case. I just closed your file last week," Tom answered, adding: "Don't forget, you had forty-five thousand dollars in unbilled legal time. And you didn't get billed for the work I did after the title transferred, all the letters and everything else. I really can't do anything about the nineteen hundred dollars. I'm afraid you have to pay it." If Tom's claim about the unbilled legal time was correct (and we have no reason to doubt it), the total cost to seek legal redress in a case of obvious and undisputed defective residential construction on a single-family home was $104,000, of which we paid out-of-pocket nearly $60,000. I will leave it to the reader to judge the sanity of our legal system.
In May 1990 Larry happened to run into architect Doug Landry, whose firm Nelson had joined during our legal battle.
"Boy!" Doug said, "you sure cost me money."
"How so?" Larry asked.
"During the litigation Nelson was always absent from work. I had to keep paying him the whole time."
"Is he still with you?"
"No, I bought him and his partner out."
"Oh, when was that?"
"Last September." [Referring to 1989, about three months after all the newspaper publicity about the house].
"Because of all the publicity?" Larry asked.
"No, not at all. Not at all. Things just didn't work out."
"I'm not surprised," Larry remarked. "He really screwed up our house. And he lied to the newspapers about what happened."
"I don't know about that. Jim just has a hard time dealing with criticism. Things didn't work out so I bought 'em out. They're no longer with me. But it had nothing to do with your house."
Two years out I still miss the wooded lot, the neighborhood, the rural ambience of that section of suburban Cleveland. I am sorry we could not stay in the house that we helped create. I wish these men had directed their energies and resources to fixing our house instead of fighting us for three years. And I wish we had understood the awful truth of civil litigation before we ever called a lawyer. Still, we are thankful to be free of the nightmare and out from under the yoke of lawyers and their unfair laws. We are thankful that our health and our marriage and our family remained strong throughout the long ordeal. And it feels good to be settled into a home that we can decorate, a home to which we can invite people, a home that should go up in value like the rest of the street. It also feels good to have completed this book. If my book saves one family the agony we suffered, even partially, it will have served its purpose.