My Day in Court with CabFiascoGuy
To all of you that have endured our cabinet fiasco drama since March 11, 2005, I thank you so much. You cannot imagine how difficult all of this has been for us.
We had our day in court on Wednesday, October 5th. Then, we had to return on Thursday, October 6th. We're now awaiting the judge's ruling.
To refresh the facts: CFG built an inferior version of cabinets we ordered and made many unauthorized design changes, misordered door profile, made island too large, appliances didn't fit, and shoddy workmanship/painting/wrong color, etc. Bottom-line: he took a check from my hand for $6,000 that I had prepared for him, but never gave to him because he did not finish the install, nor ever returned. I stopped payment on the check for breach of contract. If all was performed per contract, I would have owed him $7,250; which is the amount he file a lien on our property. He never, ever returned to fix anything, and refused to fix anything.
CFG files a $5,000 small claims suit against me. (Why not for the $7,250?)
I file a Motion to Move this from Small Claims Court to Civil Court and file a Counter Claim for the maximum amount of $14,999.99, that I could representing myself.
Judge starts with CabFiascoGuy. He told the Judge his lawyer was supposed to be here and knew the court time but was running late and isn't answering his cell phone; claimed he gave the lawyer a retainer of $1,000.00.
Judge asks for the lawyer's name and phone number and calls the lawyer's office on speaker phone for us all to hear right on the spot. Secretary answers and tells CFG did give a $1,000 retainer for *another* case, not this one! She proceeds with details and they hang up.
CFG says the secretary is confused.
Judge then asked him for the original contract and drawings. He said, "Judge, I have no paperwork. The lawyer kept all of my documents and would not return them to me or answer my phone calls."
Judge hits redial on the phone and called the attorney back on speaker phone. The Attorney had just walked in the door and the secretary put the call through.
The Attorney said something like the $1,000 was for another case. CFG did come to them about our case, but he'd have to pay a $2,500 retainer before they would file some amendments and a continuance; CFG went in to see them and brought some papers; he declined their services and said he'd handle this case pro se." When he left the office, he left his paperwork and would not return to pick it up even though the attorney called him to come back and get this paperwork.
The Judge hangs up the phone. He questioned CFG. But could not understand him. (Listen, this is not racist, but the truth: CFG is Hispanic and speaks perfect English. However, he put on the dog so much with a thick accent. He played the "I'm a poor immigrant and English is a 2nd language" routine. He neglected to say he's lived here since 1972. The Judge told him that if he could not speak English, he would conduct the trial with a Spanish interpreter. CFG then said he'd speak slower or mumbled something.
So, The Judge flat out asked the Attorney if he had a contract with CFG for this case. Attorney said, "No, sir. I have not been employed..." Judge thanked him and hung up. CFG then said, "Judge, he's confused. He owes me my retainer." The Judge said, "I'll let you settle with the Florida Bar your complaints with that attorney."
So, the Judge hesitated to continue to proceed to trial without the original contract....and no original drawings of what he was contracted to build. This is important because we had an amendment to the contract in my handwriting that CFG never fulfilled. I told the Judge I had a scanned copy of the contract, which I had printed in color. Since CFG agreed that was the original contract, we proceeded.
Well, three hours later, after my witnesses and his one witness testified, the Judge said something like, "I want to see that original contract and ALL original drawings with Mrs. Chase's signature by tomorrow. Can you both return at 11 AM?" All agreed.
The first day went for three hours, slowly, because the judge is trying to understand, but is to me I am not persuaded that he is in tune or as understanding about our demise of the kitchen, or seem to understand all of the frustrations with his misordering design elements like the corbels, making the island too big, changing molding, etc. He also made comments that he didn't 'see' what the big deal was about the difference between an arched hood or a rectangle hood. I had to tell him no less than five times, and I kid you not, our contract was based on drawings and he made what he wanted, not what I wanted. I felt like I was on trial because CFG didn't make our design agreement. The hood looks NOTHING LIKE what we agreed for him to make.
At one point our of sheer frustration I could feel the heat rise into my face and tears just stinging my eyes. The Judge was drilling me about the design of the kitchen. I respectfully said something like the design is my business and I hired him to build what I wanted and I don't like what he did. It's not as we agreed and I didn't believe it was open to interpretation. I contracted for three drawer bases and got four drawers and they didn't have the fronts I wanted: two slab and two raised panels. Well, I was so frustrated and the Judge did say to me, "Mrs. Chase, I do get it." But he sure didn't ack like it. I didn't know who was putting on the dog more, the Judge or CFG.
So, we return for Day 2. Cabfiscoguy shows up with a notebook exactly like mine with his documents in clear plastic protective sleeves. This guy recreated all drawings. ALL DRAWINGS. He also forged my initials trying to show what I signed off on. He also had photographs in his portfolio of MY PHOTOS from my website that I made for him to 'see' what was wrong. Many of you all saw that website, too.
The Judge asked me about every initial, clearly NOT mine. I denied all. I never saw any of those photos before. Then I asked about the contract. This was going to be the make or break part of my evidence.
CFG passed this notebook with the contract in it around to me and I reached in to pull it out of the sleeve. He didn't want me to touch it! Well, I told the Judge it's importance is on page two. I needed to see it. Well, you won't believe this: I pull out the contract and it looks aged but it is clearly not the original contract! NO! It is NOT the original contract!!!! I looked at page two and on the bottom, I had written something like, "Please see addendum to this contract on reverse side." NOTHING was there! I turned over the back and tried to read what was written, but it was such a loopy writing, I couldn't even make it out. I clearly had not written it. My 'initials' again appeared on this statement saying I was getting free cabinets but ...?? Couldn't make it out. If you told me right now you'd give me a million bucks for three consecutive words, I couldn't do it.
What should have been there was something like, "I, Sheri C., accept free of charge 6' of base cabinetry, upper shelving 18" deep to ceiling, and floor to ceiling shelving on the adjacent pantry wall as due compensation for CFG misordering the wrong door profile for my cabinetry." Signed my name fully.
I said something like, "Your Honor, this is a very good Xerox copy of the original contract, but this is clearly NOT the original contract, nor is this my handwriting or statement on the back of this document."
Well, for the first time the Judge seemed irritated with CFG. Up until then, I felt like he was handling him with kid gloves as he sat across the table acting like I was the cruel wicked witch of the south as he got tears in his eyes. I did my best to not look at him.
The Judge asked for that contract and looked at it closely. He said it was hard to tell. I reminded him that I gave him a scanned/photographic copy of the original in color print and we all SIGNED IN DIFFERENT INK COLOR, which is representative on the contract. Other than that, they appeared the same. I didn't read every dot and tittles, but my handwritten statements was eliminated off the front and back. His document was all in the same color black 'ink': words and signatures.
The Judged asked in a hard tone,
"CFG. IS this the original contract?" (no answer...only fidgeting)
"CFG! IS THIS the ORIGINAL Contract?" (still no answer)
The Judge asked a third time clearly getting peeved and CFG answered, "It's the only copy I have."
Well, we tied it all up with our closing statements. ALL CFG said to me is, "I'm so sorry Sheri. I tried to give money back but you wouldn't take it. I wish I never take this job. I wish I speak good English." (sheesh)
The Judge said he'd make his ruling by next week.
Departing, CFG turns around and asked the Judge if he wins can he get any more money than the $5,000? The Judge said something like, "No. You cannot inflate the Claim now. The trial is over."
I was so stressed during this entire trial. My husband was there the first day, my sister the second with me. I heard so many lies and literally wanted to just rip them apart, but it was very, VERY difficult for me to only talk to the Judge. I was nervous, only because I know I want justice...and just am not sure how it's going to come out. I didn't mince words and was extremely frank with the Judge. I just don't have any warm fuzzies.
I'm so emotional right now yet, am so glad it's over. I really thought the Judge would rule the same day, but I guess his decision will come by mail. Joy.
I'll post here when I get the ruling. I have to say I can see this going either way.