BUILDER BITTER AT JUSTICE DELAY AFTER PUSD TERMINATED CONTRACT
“Daily Bulletin” — Published Friday, April 7, 2000
By Andrew Wainer, Staff Writer
The owner of a now-defunct Orange County construction firm awarded a $3.9 million judgment against Pomona Unified School District for wrongful termination expressed frustration Thursday over how long it took for justice to be done. “It’s about four years overdue,” said Bob Lewis, who headed the Lewis Jorge Construction Management Co. Lewis filed his lawsuit in January 1997. A Los Angeles Superior Court jury on March 20 ordered the Pomona Unified School District to pay $3.9 million for wrongful termination to the former Orange County construction firm.
The jury’s verdict requires the district to pay the award to plaintiff Lewis Jorge Construction Management Co., headed by Lewis. Lewis brought the suit against the district after his company was fired from the Vejar Elementary School construction project in June 1996.
The plaintiff’s attorney, F. Albert Ibrahim, said the district’s wrongful termination of the contract effectively put Lewis Jorge out of business. “That termination was Lewis Jorge’s death knell,” Ibrahim said. The district’s general counsel was not available for comment on Thursday. Ibrahim said Thursday he is now seeking additional money in post-trial motions from the district for attorney fees and interest. Judge Harold Cherness should decide on these claims by May 18. If awarded, it could bring the total penalty against the district to about $5 million, Ibrahim said.
The district said in a news release that it terminated Lewis because he failed to meet the December 1995 deadline for completion of the $6 million elementary school. Ibrahim said the delays were due to weather, vandalism problems and the district’s own mishandling of the project. Ibrahim also said the project was 99 percent completed when Lewis was fired. He said the district failed to pay Lewis Jorge its last two monthly fees and the retention pay, which is equivalent to 10 percent of the total project.
Additionally the money awarded to Lewis Jorge Construction Management Co. included $3.1 million that Lewis claims he lost because he was unable to bid on public works after his termination. The company eventually lost its bonding line with CNA Insurance because of the withheld payment, eliminating its ability to bid for further works projects, Ibrahim said. Lewis said the loss of the bonding line eventually put him out of business.
In spite of the ruling, the district said in a media release issued Thursday that it “still believes it was correct in terminating Lewis Jorge” and would appeal the verdict. The matter is expected to be in litigation for up to two more years.
The district said that after it fired Lewis, another contractor finished the school within two months. Vejar Elementary School was opened in September 1996.
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