Atlanta—After a one-day postponement due to inclement weather, testimony resumed today in Fulton County Superior Court in a trial in which Margaret Jones, a veteran Atlanta public relations and political consultant, is seeking to recover unpaid consulting fees for her work in preparing the winning proposal for the $400+ million Perry Homes redevelopment project (now known as West Highlands). Margaret Jones and Associates and Margaret Hylton Jones v. Perry Homes Redevelopment, LLC et al. (2003CV79479)
In 1999, the City of Atlanta demolished the former Perry Homes public housing project in west Atlanta, and the Atlanta Housing Authority began accepting proposals from private contractors to redevelop the property. According to statements and testimony in the case, Jones, who had served as a consultant to the AHA previously, met early in 2000 with Carl Drury, a golf course developer who wanted to build a course on a property adjacent to the proposed Perry Homes revitalization project.
Shortly thereafter, Jones and Drury met with Richard White, another consultant for the AHA, to discuss the Perry Homes revitalization project. Eventually, Drury; multi-unit housing developer Noel Khalil, a client of White; and single-unit housing developer Steve Brock formed Perry Homes Redevelopment, the entity that was awarded the project in 2001. However, Drury’s planned golf course was never built, and the final West Highlands project consisted of a mix of multi-unit and single-unit housing.
All the parties agree that Jones has never been paid for any work she performed on the project. Jones filed her lawsuit against Brock, Khalil, and White in 2003. In 2011, the Georgia Court of Appeals allowed the case to go to trial against all three defendants on differing theories of liability.
In his opening statement, Jones’s attorney, Richard Robbins, acknowledged that Jones never had a signed contract with any of the parties in the case for consulting fees. However, he contended that Jones, Drury, and the three defendants all considered themselves “team members” and that none of them had written contracts regarding compensation while the proposal was being developed. Instead they went forward on the basis of a “couple of handshakes,” and all participated in the preparation of the proposal
Robbins added, “It doesn’t get complicated until they win the award. Now we will see what happens when money enters the picture and when certain people get the right to make a lot of money.” According to Robbins, White then entered into a “secret signed deal” with Khalil to which Jones was not a party. Brock, on the other hand, denied any knowledge of any agreement with Jones, according to Robbins. He continued, “At the end of the day, everyone there got money off this project … that Margaret spearheaded, and Margaret is sitting here 12 years later without anything.”
The three defendants had different views of the financial arrangements involved in the project, but none believed they owed Jones any money. Khalil’s attorney, Christopher Philips, also characterized the various parties to the project as a “team.” However, he said that although the parties had several discussions in the early stages of the project on how they were to be paid, they never came to an agreement. Instead after May 2000, “everybody stops focusing on that; the focus becomes let’s get the job, let’s get the award. Because nobody gets paid if you don’t get the award.”
According to Philips, even after the award was made, the parties couldn’t agree on the payment of fees. However, by 2002, Khalil needed to begin construction on his portion of the project and needed written contracts in place to proceed. So, Khalil signed an agreement with White to pay him Khalil’s share of the consulting fees for the project. Khalil understood that Jones would be paid by White in accordance with whatever arrangement the two consultants had. Since Khalil had already made full payment of all fees owed by the time of the trial, Jones’s recourse for unpaid fees, if any, would be against White.
Steve Brock’s attorney, Joe Sharp, denied that Brock had any agreement with any of the other parties in the case for the payment of consulting fees. Further, he denied that Brock had requested or received any services from Jones in connection with the preparation of the proposal. “Brock Built [Brock’s company] did not hire Ms. Jones. Brock Built did not ask Ms. Jones to do anything for it. Ms. Jones asked to do stuff for Brock Built; Brock Built said no. All the information that went into the proposal for Brock Built, it provided itself.”
Richard White is appearing pro se in this case. In his opening statement, he contended that Khalil was his only client in the project, that he had an agreement with Khalil and was paid by Khalil. He said that Drury was Jones’s client in the project, that she had provided services for Drury during the preparation of the proposal (such as the preparation of Drury’s curriculum vitae), and that any fees owed Jones were owed by Drury.
Testimony is expected to continue in the case for the remainder of the week.
Attorneys in this case include Richard Robbins with the Robbins Firm of Atlanta for Margaret Jones, Christopher Phillips with Hunter Maclean of Savannah for Noel Khalil, and Joseph Sharp with Polsinelli of Atlanta for Steve Brock.
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