Bullock in court over dream home

Actress claims builder bilked her out of millions in seven-year house dispute
The Daily Telegraph via the Ottawa Citizen -Marcus Warren - August 24, 2004 

 Seems it doesn't matter how much you pay for a home
AUSTIN, Texas - Sandra Bullock achieved yesterday what countless homeowners dream of but few carry off: she confronted her builder in court in a rancorous dispute over work on her house.

The Hollywood actress accuses her builder and developer of cheating her out of a dream Texas home and falsely billing her for millions of dollars of labour. The lakeside property stands empty to this day, seven years after the work was commissioned.

The showdown has degenerated into a long-running legal grudge match. The trial, held before a 12-member jury, is likely to last at least a month and the courtroom is piled high with boxes of case documents.

Pictures of the unfinished house and its turrets, fireplaces and a spiral staircase have been flashed on to a huge screen in court as though they were evidence from a crime scene.

The actress and her father and business manager, John Bullock, were sinking about $1 million U.S. a month into the house at the end of the 1990s, court heard yesterday.

The 40-year-old star of the Speed movies and romantic comedies such as Miss Congeniality claims her chateau-style mansion outside Austin has a leaky and structurally unsound roof as well as flaws in its windows and stone.

She is suing her builder, M.B. "Benny'' Daneshjou, for $4 million to repair the property, and another $6 million for work paid for but allegedly not carried out.

Ms. Bullock and Mr. Daneshjou were in court, but both studiously avoided each other's gaze during yesterday's hearing.

Mr. Daneshjou's lawyer has argued that the Bullocks still owe the builder money and that the house is by no means the disaster portrayed.

A receptionist for the builder yesterday described a meeting in July 1999 in which Mr. Bullock, looking "upset and angry," barged into her boss' office and yelled at him.

"He was annoyed and stormed out of the door," Stephanie Montemayer told the court of Mr. Bullock's exit.

The film star's celebrity has attracted a horde of reporters to the hearings and last week threatened to overwhelm the tiny courtroom in Texas's state capital. "This is a lawsuit about a house," said Judge Paul Davis. "Everybody calm down."

However, even Judge Davis appeared baffled yesterday by the intricacies of the case, shutting his eyes, putting his thumbs to his temples and sighing: "Oh my goodness!"

A modest colony of Hollywood stars has set up home in Austin, attracted by the city's zany ambiance and thriving alternative scene. Apart from Ms. Bullock, other residents include fellow actors Dennis Quaid and Luke Wilson.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004