Dirty Laundry/Williams's Trial
Tennis trial may air dirty laundry
By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
WEST PALM BEACH — An already contentious trial, charging Venus, Serena and Richard Williams with reneging on what was supposed to be a lucrative battle-of-the-sexes tennis match, could get even uglier.
Attorneys representing two would-be promoters in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the famous tennis family said they may drag out some particularly dirty family laundry if the Williamses' attorneys try to paint their client as a liar.
The not-so-veiled threat came Monday when attorney F. Malcolm Cunningham Jr., who is representing the sisters, persuaded Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Winikoff to let him call one of Carol Clarke's former associates to testify that Clarke once told her that she had cancer.
The testimony is important because Richard Williams has testified that one of the main reasons he committed his daughters to the match was because Clarke told him she needed money to pay for her cancer treatment. Clarke, meanwhile, has told the jury that she never had cancer and never told Williams that she did.
Testimony from the former business associate would show the jury that Clarke told others, in addition to Williams, that she had cancer, Cunningham successfully argued.
Clarke's attorney, John Romano, countered that if her cancer becomes fodder for speculation, so too may Richard Williams' failed marriage.
"Then we can get into the spousal abuse," Romano told Winikoff.
Allegations that Williams beat the mother of Venus and Serena would become relevant because he also claims that he agreed to have his daughters participate in the event planned for late 2001 after Clarke promised to help him reunite with his then-estranged wife, Oracene, Romano said. The couple divorced in 2002.
The allegations would raise questions about his emotional testimony about how much he loved his wife, Romano said.
Jan Michael Morris, who represents Richard Williams, objected that the evidence of abuse, based only on sketchy police reports, never would be admissible.
Winikoff cut him off. "I don't need a preview of coming attractions," the judge said, adding that he would decide whether abuse allegations would be allowed into evidence if and when Romano makes a formal request.
At the end of the day, Romano said he didn't know whether he would do so. He said he would prefer not to but that it might be necessary to combat the testimony that Clarke claimed she had cancer to elicit sympathy.
The battle over who can testify about what came as the trial entered its third week.
Clarke spent most of the afternoon on the witness stand with Cunningham trying to portray her as a gold digger who latched on to the Williams family, trying to make the fortune that has long eluded her.
A former insurance agent, she met Richard Williams after she had gotten into films. Her brother, who ran the tennis shop at BallenIsles where Venus and Serena occasionally trained, introduced her to him in 1997 after he expressed interest in getting involved in film and video projects. She became a regular visitor at his Palm Beach Gardens home.
Before cooking up the idea in 2000 for the battle-of-the-sexes match, which Clarke estimated would net $45 million, they discussed various moneymaking ventures that never reached fruition.
Williams, who owned a bus company, at one time suggested that they outfit a bus with Web-casting equipment to feature his daughters on tour. She at one time suggested using the notoriety of the top-ranked sisters to market a magnetic tennis bracelet.
The only projects Clarke did with Venus and Serena Williams, however, were interviewing them for a documentary on Althea Gibson, the first black person to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament, and several public service announcements. The sisters were never paid for their participation.
Clarke is slated to continue to testify today, followed by Keith Rhodes, her partner in the failed match. The trial is due to wrap up Dec. 15.
And the DRAMA continues....................!