We were there for Talladega College
Jim Williams and his colleagues at Sirote & Permutt do not take kindly to a business trying to take advantage of a client already faced with financial challenges. So when Sirote client Talladega College—the oldest private, historically black college in Alabama—was renovating one of its dormitories and ended up having to defend itself against a lawsuit from its general contractor, Sirote stood by the college to fight back against what Jim Williams believes was aggressive over-reaching on the part of the contractor and its legal counsel.
Sirote has a long history representing the college. One of the firm’s senior partners, J. Mason Davis, Jr., is a Talladega alumnus, as well as a former chairman of its Board of Trustees, and his connections to the school helped lay the groundwork for the firm’s work handling various types of cases for the college for many years.
Williams, meanwhile, is a close friend of Chad Woodruff, a Talladega-based attorney who also represents the college and who often calls on Sirote for assistance on matters related to the college where appropriate.
That’s what happened in the contentious case of Foster Hall, the oldest dorm on campus, which sits on the National Register of Historic Places and had been all but destroyed in a fire many years ago. The college was renovating it with help from a series of federal grants, but work stopped when a missed deadline resulted in the withholding of government funds—a painful setback for the college in and of itself, but one that became almost disastrous when the general contractor decided to use the opportunity and attempt to claim unearned overhead and profits because of the work stoppage.
Although the contractor was paid in full for work that had been completed, its attorney realized that a clause in the contract would potentially entitle the contractor to a great deal of additional money if the contractor could convince Talladega College to terminate the contract. Through what could only be construed as legal maneuvering, the contractor and its lawyer did just that. After the contractor received a letter from the college that purported to terminate the contract, the contractor immediately made a claim for additional money. “They came back and said, essentially, ‘Boom—we’ve got you,’” Williams recalls.
The case went to arbitration. Williams expected the contractor to at least try and offer an alternative explanation for its actions, but they didn’t, leading the arbitrator to the same conclusion Williams and his colleagues had reached—that the company was simply trying to take advantage of the college and exploiting an already bad situation.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of the college. “The contractor and their lawyer just acted like that’s the way they do business, but as their lawyers and friends of Talladega College, we took offense at that,” Williams says. “It was a great moral win as well as an actual win.”
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