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Dispute brings Williams sisters to another kind of court

By Bo Rosser
Court TV
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WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (Court TV) -- A celebrity-driven contract battle erupted in angry outbursts Tuesday when an attorney alleged that tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and their father lied on the stand.

Attorney John Romano, who represents promoters Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes in a breach-of-contract suit against the Williams sisters and their father, produced documents that he says show Richard Williams signed agreements on behalf of his daughters.

The documents could undermine the testimony of Venus, Serena and Richard Williams. All three have testified that the sisters have signed their own contracts since they turned 18,the promoters contend.

In a 53-page document, attorneys for Clarke and Rhodes requested that sanctions be imposed against the defense.

How the Williams family handles contracts is central to the case.

On March 5, 2001, Richard Williams and plaintiff Carol Clarke signed an agreement that allegedly committed the Wimbledon winners to a modern-day "Battle of the Sexes" match. Clarke and Rhodes claim the Williams family reneged on the contract when the tennis stars refused to participate.

The Williams family denies that Richard Williams, 64, had the authority to bind his daughters to a contract.

Lawyer says sisters lied

The motion for sanctions ignited fiery exchange between the lawyers and aggressive instructions from the judge. A deputy eventually stepped forward to calm the proceedings, even placing a hand on one of the attorneys' shoulders.

During the 25-minute debate, which took place outside the jury's presence, Romano accused the defense of intentionally withholding the documents and of misrepresenting the facts about Richard Williams' role in his daughters' careers.

Judge Jeffrey Winikoff said he will not rule on the motion until Friday, after he sees the 28 documents requested by the plaintiffs.

The documents include an agreement signed in 2000 that allegedly committed Venus and Serena to act as grand marshals for the Orange Bowl Parade and two release forms signed in 2001 that allegedly permitted their voice and image to be used in a public service announcement.

All of the documents are signed by Richard Williams and not by his daughters, according to Romano. Both tennis players were adults at time the documents were allegedly signed.

Earlier in the trial, Malcolm Cunningham denied the existence of contracts signed by Richard Williams on behalf of his daughters to the court.

Cunningham and his associates may argue that the defense attorney was referring to different contracts and did not know these specific papers existed, or may claim the records do not constitute contracts.

"Those contracts were requested from us and we agreed to provide them on a redacted basis, provided that those contracts were actually executed by Richard Williams," Cunningham said. "Richard Williams did not execute any of those contracts, and therefore we did not produce them."

Documents in dispute

In a response filed by the defense later in the day, Cunningham claimed that the release forms from 2001 were never used for the production of a public service announcement.

The defense offered two release forms from a 1999 PSA produced for Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which were only signed by Venus and Serena Williams. The response did not address the documents associated with the Orange Bowl Parade.

Under the request for sanctions, the plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages, which are only allowed if "unforeseeable circumstances" arise, according to the motion.

If punitive damages are allowed, the plaintiffs could seek as much as $27 million based on the potential earnings listed in the complaint. Under Florida law, punitive damages may be awarded at three times actual damages.

Romano also asked the judge to instruct the jury that Venus and Serena Williams violated court rules by not providing relevant contracts to the court and that they lied during their testimony.

After the morning motion, Clarke returned to the stand for a third day of testimony. Under cross-examination, the promoter described business ideas she had posed to the Williams family, none of which ever got off the ground. But she rejected Cunningham's claim that she was trying to cash in on the Williams' fame.

"Taking advantage of somebody is doing something that would be construed as against their benefit," Clarke said. "Capitalizing in this situation ... would mean all of us had the opportunity to make a considerable amount of money."



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