Richard Williams Testifies In Breach Of Contract Case
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; Posted: 3:35 a.m. CST USA
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The father of Venus and Serena Williams testified Monday that he never served as their manager and had no authority to commit the tennis stars to play in a 2001 "Battle of the Sexes" match. Richard Williams and his daughters are accused of reneging on a deal to play in the event, costing promoters millions of dollars and prompting a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the family. "I was never Venus and Serena's manager, never," Richard Williams said.
Promoters Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes, owners of a company called CCKR, allege that Richard Williams committed his daughters to play in the match, and they failed to live up to the agreement. The promoters are suing the sisters, their father and his company, Richard Williams Tennis & Associates, seeking unspecified damages. The Williams sisters did not sign any contract with CCKR. They contend their father could not make such a commitment because he did not have the authority to enter into the deal and has never served as their manager. The dispute centers on whether Richard Williams was acting as the sisters' manager at the time the deal was made. The plaintiffs' attorneys Monday showed jurors copies of tax returns from 1998-00 for Richard Williams' company that indicate he was paid nearly $2 million in "management fees" from his daughters.
"Is it true that it says management fees because you have told your accounting firm that you were the manager and agent for Venus and Serena?" asked John Romano, the plaintiffs' attorney. "No sir," Richard Williams replied. "I never told my accountant ... that I managed Venus and Serena." Williams said he was unaware his accounting firm was characterizing the payments from his daughters as management fees. Attorneys for the sisters and their father claim the payments were mischaracterized for tax-deduction purposes and that Richard Williams was paid merely for coaching services. Richard Williams acknowledges drawing up terms of a potential contract for the 2001 event, but he insists he told promoters they would have to go through the IMG sports agency, which represents Venus and Serena, to complete any agreement. The promoters claim the tournament could have made about $45 million, of which 80 percent was to go to Richard Williams' company. The plaintiffs' attorneys played a video clip for jurors showing Richard Williams negotiating the deal with Clarke. In the video, taken by Richard Williams, he tells Clarke that Venus and Serena are "well aware of what I am doing." "Was that a false statement?" Romano asked Richard Williams. "Yes," he replied.
A first trial in the case ended in a mistrial in December. This second trial, before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey A. Winikoff, began Friday and was expected to last five weeks. Jurors have the option of finding Richard Williams liable, alone. They could also find the sisters and their father liable or dismiss the allegations. The sisters were in court Monday and were seated at a table near their father, who is represented by a different attorney. Richard Williams was set to return to the witness stand Tuesday for cross-examination. The Williams sisters have won a combined 59 singles events on the WTA Tour, including 12 Grand Slam singles titles, with more than $32 million in prize money.
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