Judge stays gov’t counterclaim on schools

Full trial expected over high schools contract lawsuit

A Cayman Islands Grand Court judge
has stayed a counterclaim filed by government against its former contractor on
the new high schools construction project, essentially stating in his ruling
that the government counterclaims were brought in breach of a contractual
agreement.

The judgment issued by Justice Alex
Henderson last week contained two defeats from government’s point of view in
its ongoing dispute over project payments with Tom Jones International. Tom
Jones previously led the construction of the new John Gray and Clifton Hunter
high schools on Grand Cayman.

As part of drawn-out and much-publicised
argument over the project, the government sought to have the initial lawsuit
filed by Tom Jones tossed out of court. But Justice Henderson ruled Wednesday
that the dispute needed to go to a full court trial.

With regard to the counterclaim
filed by government following the Tom Jones lawsuit, Mr. Henderson’s judgment
stated that the government’s filing appeared to involve issues separate and
distinct from those raised in the Tom Jones lawsuit. The judge also noted that
the government’s counterclaim appeared to be inadequate in terms of
detail. 

“The woeful lack of particularity
in this counterclaim is forensically embarrassing and renders it vulnerable to
a strike out application,” Mr. Henderson wrote.

Government lawyers said
“forensically embarrassing” is a legal term which means “lacking in
detail”. 

According to a statement released
Thursday afternoon by the Ministry of Education: “The government did not feel
that it was appropriate to incur the costs of setting out its counterclaim in
full until it was clear that the matter would go to a full trial. The Court has
now found that the issues raised by the parties do require a full trial and,
accordingly, the Government will now proceed to set out the full details of its
claim against TJI. (Tom Jones International).”

Justice Henderson also ruled that
Tom Jones was entitled to court costs incurred.

Tom Jones is suing the government
for nearly $3 million; an amount the construction company said it was owed over
its previous work on the new John Gray and Clifton Hunter high schools. 

In its preliminary judgment – the
full text of which was obtained Friday by the Caymanian Compass – the court
found that the issues raised by the parties in the Tom Jones lawsuit require a
full trial. 

The difficulty with the previous
schools contractor involved disputes over some 85 change orders in the project,
which totalled more than $17 million, according to Tom Jones International. The
Tom Jones contract was cancelled by government late last year and the construction
firm was sued. Tom Jones International was also sued by a subcontractor, Caribbean
Mechanical, which was seeking more than $2 million for work done on the high
school sites through the end of September 2009. Caribbean Mechanical Chief Executive
Alan Roffey has previously said his company was not paid for that work.

The government’s counterclaim
refers to “numerous claims” against Tom Jones International as a result of the
termination of the original schools construction contract. The government
stated its belief that no further payments should be made to Tom Jones unless
it was able to complete work on the two high schools. 

Premier McKeeva Bush has said that
the wrangling over the schools project delayed planned opening dates of
September 2010 for both campuses.   

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