Sandra Bullock’s Days in Court
Update by Janet Ahmad
Austin, Texas, September 19, 2004
– A $1.5
million price tag for a home by Hollywood standards is a modest sum;
however, when that price tag soared to $6.5 million and the owner
cannot live in the home, it becomes a nightmare and lawsuit.
Amazingly, for the past
month the Sandra Bullock history-making case against her builder,
Benny Daneshjou of Daneshjou Construction, has been quietly unfolding
in a small court room in Austin. But
for a few articles in the Austin Statesman, and the San Antonio
Express News, the case has received little attention.
Even more amazing is
that instead of the stars’ fans filling the courtroom, other unhappy
homeowners with homes built by Benny Daneshjou are testifying about
their identical and dreadful experiences – cost overruns, shocking
overcharges, deadlines ignored, months turning into years, defectively
constructed homes and devastating disappointments.
These have been bad days
for Benny Daneshjou, who apparently has a long list of unhappy
customers with multimillion dollar defective homes in the Austin area.
One cannot help but
wonder why he sits in the courtroom so confident and defiant with
laughter at unhappy customers who give such damaging testimony, or experts
that describe a roof installed
in the wrong direction and other outrageous construction defects. Could
it be because this is Texas, where builder confidence is
extraordinarily high due to tort reforms, binding arbitration, lack of
regulation of the building industry, and a long track record of not
being held accountable?
Those who attend soon
forget that this story is about Sandra Bullock, the star, as she sits
quietly with her devoted father by her side through the exhausting
hours, day after day. I
have personally wondered how she and her father manage to control
their emotions as the $6.5 million home is vividly described as
defective and non-compliant with standards.
Expert witness Clark
Griffin, an architect from Boston, illustrated the defective roof
framing and described in a video the water intrusion through the
chimneys, the balcony, leaks in all the windows and doors, and the
roof caused by either defective flashing or no flashing at all. Griffin
went on to describe what he termed as “an incredible amount of water
intrusion,” due to lack of flashing, defectively installed rock
work, stucco and roofing materials causing damage to framing, rotting
OSB board used as sheathing, and the presence of toxic stachybotrus
It has been series of
exhausting days for the 12 jurors and one alternative, who listen
attentively to witnesses who one by one struggled with words to
describe framing defects in the photos.
Finally, in describing roofing framing, one expert simply said,
“I’m not quite sure how to describe this one – I’ll just let
the photo speak for itself.” He
continued with photos showing roof bracing installed in the wrong
direction and the standing metal roofing that had been installed
sideways. The same expert
pointed out examples of extensive non-compliance with Austin minimum
building codes in framing such as missing fire blocking, and an area
where a three-foot piece of a second story floor support component was
indiscriminately cut out.
The highlight of that
day came when the Daneshjou attorney aggressively argued that his
client (the builder) did not have to build to any higher standard than
minimum standards, even for a $6.5 million home.
Because of Binding
Arbitration in builder contracts for the past ten years, literally
tens of thousands of homeowners with defective homes have never seen
the inside of a courtroom to have their grievances heard and in hopes
of holding a bad builder accountable.
Now, for the first time in many years, one victim of a bad
homebuilder is finally being heard.
Sandra Bullock has been
fortunate in her life in more ways than one.
She is fortunate that she has the resolve and the financial
means to stand up to her builder. She
is also fortunate that she did not have a binding arbitration clause
in her contract and now has the opportunity to hold the builder
accountable in a court of law.
Throughout this trial I
am struck by the fact that she obviously had the ability and could
have spared herself and her father from this grueling event, but
instead has demonstrated her tenacity throughout this trial to see it
to the end, even at personal sacrifice. She
is painfully proving that despite the opportunities life has afforded
her, it does not give anyone the right to defraud her or deny her a
day in court. Sandra Bullock sets an example for all of us.
For that we will be forever grateful.