Ambush or No Ambush
Documents contradict Williams' statements
By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2006
WEST PALM BEACH — Minutes after tennis great Serena Williams swore she always signed her own agreements, a judge on Friday ruled that a jury may be shown four documents that Richard Williams signed on behalf of his famous daughters.
The ruling was a coup for attorneys representing two would-be promoters who are seeking as much as $9 million from Venus, Serena and Richard Williams, claiming they reneged on a 2001 contract to participate in a battle-of-the-sexes tennis match.
Throughout the four-week trial, the family has insisted the contract Richard Williams signed, promising his daughters would participate in the match, was meaningless. Richard Williams, they have argued, had no authority to commit Venus and Serena to do anything, much less participate in a match that the promoters claimed would net $45 million.
But, according to attorneys representing shunned promoters Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes, the four documents may not be the only ones that dispute the family's claims.
Late Friday, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Winikoff signed an order demanding the release of agreements that paved the way for the sisters' recent appearances at charity events in Denver, New Orleans and Charlotte, N.C.
Attorney John Romano, who represents the promoters, said the sisters didn't sign documents to play at the three events that benefitted Ronald McDonald House Charities. He said he got his information from an attorney involved in the event outside Denver. The appearance contracts, he said, were signed by their agent.
F. Malcolm Cunningham Jr., who represents the sisters, argued vehemently that the documents involving the recently-completed charity matches, like the other four agreements, have nothing to do with the lawsuit over the battle of the sexes match.
"More irrelevancy," he said.
"Your client sat on the stand and said, 'I sign all my contracts.' She was most insistent no matter how [Romano] asked it," he said, before signing the order that will be sent to an attorney in Colorado.
Afterward, Cunningham said he may file a lawsuit in the Rocky Mountain State, preventing the documents from being released.
The dispute underscores the animosity surrounding the case. Attorney James Beasley, who also represents the promoters, and Amy Fischer, who works with Cunningham, yelled at each other when Winikoff asked them about what progress they'd made in drafting instructions he will read to the jury before it begins deliberations.
Further, a Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy, accompanied by at least three others, entered the courtroom to deliver subpoenas to Richard, Venus and Serena Williams to testify Monday as part of Romano's case.
Cunningham said such high-handed tactics were unnecessary. Romano could have simply walked across the courtroom and alerted them he intends to call them to the stand, he said.
Jan Michael Morris, who is representing Richard Williams, agreed. "They're putting on a show," he said.
Romano said he took the step because he was afraid the Williamses wouldn't show up.
Before most of the fireworks, Romano quizzed both Serena and Venus Williams about the four documents Romano said their father signed on their behalf.
Like her younger sister, Venus Williams, 26, insisted she always signs her own agreements.
Cunningham described Romano's decision to bring up the documents in the closing days of a four-year-old lawsuit as an "ambush."
The trial continues Monday. Closing arguments are expected Wednesday.
"Ambush"........Some might see it that way, but a brilliant move from the organizers lawyers. And how about those subpoena's? The dramatics were uncalled for in my opinion. Hand them over to the Williams's while they exit the courtroom.