Re: Richard Williams Held Liable But No Damages
Jury finds Williams liable but awards no damages
Palm Beach Post Staff Report
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Although a jury found that Richard Williams did in fact breach a contract he signed promising his famous daughters, Venus and Serena Williams, would participate in a tennis match, they did not order him to pay the would-be promoters a dime.
Richard Williams was not in the courtroom when the jury returned with its decision. Venus and Serena Williams, however, were visibly elated, hugging each other and an older sister, Isha Williams, who came in from out of town for the final days of the multi-million dollar breach of contract trial.
The jury's decision brings an end to the nearly five-week trial, punctuated by such acrimony and histrionics that several times, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Winikoff has had to chastise the litigants and their attorneys.
Attorney F. Malcolm Cunningham Jr., who represented the Williams sisters, raised his hands over his head and yelled, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" in a small office inside the courthouse where he met privately with the family after the verdict.
At issue was a contract that Richard Williams signed promising his daughters would participate in a match that was to pit Venus and Serena Williams against two unnamed retired male tennis stars, possibly John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
The family had insisted the document was meaningless because Richard Williams had no authority to commit Venus and Serena Williams to anything, much less participate in a match that the promoters claimed would net $45 million.
However, attorneys representing shunned promoters Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes, who say they stood to make as much as $9 million, produced several documents to dispute the family's claims.
Throughout the trial, the Williams sisters insisted they sign their own contracts. But on Tuesday, spurned business adviser Leland Hardy took the stand armed with documents that punched holes in their claims that Richard Williams didn't speak for them. Hardy offered four documents that Richard Williams apparently signed on his daughters' behalf. He also offered a letter in which Richard Williams outlined the correct way to do business with the family.
The jury found the contract was indeed valid, but awarded no damages to Clarke and Rhodes.
Various experts testified about the potential success of the failed tennis match. A Boca Raton accountant hired by lawyers representing Clarke and Rhodes said it could have made between $27.8 million or $37.8 million depending on whether it was held at a casino or an arena.
But Ray Benton, who founded the now-defunct Worldwide Senior Tennis Circuit along with his one-time client Jimmy Connors, said the match offered the Williams sisters nothing but the possibility of humiliation. He said he would have advised them not to step onto the tennis court for less than $5 million each. And if the promoters agreed to pay them that much, the planned match would have been a bust, Benton said.