The ongoing lawsuit between the East Hampton School District and Sandpebble Builders, the contractor originally hired to manage the recent multimillion-dollar renovation of the district’s three buildings, turned ugly this week, with each side agreeing they would see each other in court.
After a school board meeting and budget workshop last week, where a line item upping anticipated legal fees from $150,000 last year to $350,000 for 2012-13 brought incredulity from board members, the district’s attorney, Kevin Seaman, issued a statement blaming Sandpebble for the impasse.
“The Board of Education has for a great many months at this point sought to generate settlement negotiations between its attorneys and the attorneys representing Sandpebble,” the statement reads. “These efforts have been to no avail as the position of Sandpebble’s attorneys, as recently as Feb. 6, 2012, is that they will not entertain any settlement figure that is not ‘in excess of $2.9 million’.”
Mr. Seaman noted that the case had been in and out of the courts for four years, costing the district some $2.3 million in legal fees. Sandpebble had been contracted to oversee construction, but the project increased in scope and a different contractor was brought in. The company initiated litigation in 2006, claiming it had been fired illegally and suing for $3.75 million.
In a swift response from Sandpebble, Victor Canseco, its owner, wrote, “I am shocked at the irresponsibility of the school board in the misrepresentation of information about its case with Sandpebble. After having lost in court — notwithstanding spending $2 to $3 million dollars in legal fees — the district is now trying to paint my company in a false light in the public’s eye.”
While Mr. Seaman wrote that the school board is “extremely disappointed that it is not able to generate a settlement,” Mr. Canseco responded, “This is a situation where elected officials will say or do anything to divert attention from the budget reconciliation issues which they face as well as distance themselves from responsibility for what happened.”
Mr. Canseco wrote that he had met with the former school board — which, with the exception of Laura Anker Grossman, the school board president, is now made up of new members — over a year ago and made a confidential settlement offer which he claimed was rejected.
The $2.9 million figure Mr. Seaman’s referred to comes from a report several months ago that Sandpebble might settle with the district for that amount. At this point, however, the district and Mr. Canseco seem to agree on only one point: In Mr. Seaman’s words, “the district will have no choice other than to continue to expend legal fees through the discovery process leading to what will ultimately be a trial on the merits of the legal contentions of both the district and Sandpebble.”