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Actress takes stand in mansion lawsuit
Sunday, 19 September 2004
Actress takes stand in mansion lawsuit
San Antonio Express (AUSTIN — Sandra Bullock, the Hollywood star of ""Miss Congeniality,"" was anything but congenial ... done, about $4 million was needed to fix design defects in the ... Actress takes stand in mansion lawsuit
Guillermo X. Garcia
Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Sandra Bullock, the Hollywood star of "Miss Congeniality," was anything but congenial in court Tuesday, firmly disputing that she owes money to the architect-builder of her 10,000-square-foot mansion overlooking Lake Austin.

Austin high-end homebuilder Benny Daneshjou sued Bullock in 2001 for unspecified architectural and other fees he claims he is owed on the 6-year-old construction project.

Bullock countersued that same year and is seeking repayment of what her attorneys say was Daneshjou's overbilling of some of his fees and labor costs.

Walter Mizell, one of Bullock's lawyers, has said that even after the construction was done, about $4 million was needed to fix design defects in the massive home.

The defects included ones involving separate guest quarters, a boat house and an air-conditioned "doggie" room for her pet.

Originally contracted to build Bullock a 5,000-square-foot home for about $1.2 million, Daneshjou, who Bullock said was described to her as being "the best architect in Austin, if not in Texas," ended up building a house double the size of the original plan. Bullock's attorneys say she paid the builder more than $6.5 million before halting further payment.

Bullock took the stand Tuesday amid rapt attention from several of the younger men on the eight-man, five-woman jury, which includes one alternate. The trial is expected to last another month.

In court she looked nothing like the FBI ugly duckling agent-turned beauty contest winner she plays in "Miss Congeniality," which was filmed in Austin and San Antonio.

In a black sweater and gray slacks with her hair pulled into a ponytail over black rimmed glasses, Bullock wore light makeup and no jewelry except for a Lance Armstrong wristband. She maintained a relaxed air during her three hours on the stand.

Bantering with opposing counsel, Bullock frequently made the attorneys repeat their questions, sometimes several times. She had one of Daneshjou's lawyers, Robert MacInnes of Austin, repeat one question four times before finally telling him she did not know the answer.

At one point, state District County Judge Paul Davis admonished attorneys, making MacInnes rephrase a question before the judge posed the question himself to the movie star.

She turned to face Davis and her response to him included a dazzling, best-of-Hollywood smile.

At the heart of the years-long battle is the allegation that Bullock was never informed that Daneshjou would bill her at a rate of 6 percent of the total cost, in addition to 15 percent for overhead, management and architectural fees.

Bullock alleges the architect's "cost plus" fee improperly went up to almost 10 percent and that Daneshjou broke the contract. He charges that the construction costs escalated out of sight when she ordered more than 200 changes to the original house plan during 1997 and 1998, when most of house was being built.

Bullock's attorneys also argued that Daneshjou charged the star $28-$35 an hour per laborer, but then only paid the workers $7-$8 an hour. Mizell said about $280,000 in labor costs is in dispute.

The massive structure has never been lived in after construction ended in 2000. It features a three-car garage, an office, a large film screening room and a library connected to the master bedroom via a spiral staircase. The home features old pine floors, kitchen fixtures from England and new but aged-looking roof tiles from France.

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