Jury Finds Tomjanoviches 'Acted in Malice' to Conceal Home Damage

The couple were ordered to pay a money manager for not disclosing water and mold damage during the sale of a Pacific Palisades home. A second hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday to determine punitive action.

Former Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich and his wife, Sophie, were ordered Friday to pay a money manager more than $2.7 million for not disclosing water seepage and mold within a Pacific Palisades home they sold to him in 2007.

The Los Angeles Superior Court panel, which had deliberated since early Thursday morning, also found the Tomjanoviches acted with malice toward Steven Bardack, triggering a second phase to begin Tuesday to determine if the Strata Capital founder should be awarded punitive damages.

Tomjanovich leaned back in his chair, shook his head and took several sips from a bottle of water as he heard the jury find him liable for breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation, concealment and negligent non-disclosure. His wife, who was with him throughout the trial, was not present.

He leaned forward and nodded approvingly when an occasional dissenting juror announced during polling disagreement with the majority.

The panel also found the Tomjanoviches 100 percent responsible, clearing Bardack and the contractors of any contributory negligence.

Althought the couple filed a cross-complaint against their real estate company, Coldwell Banker, and their selling agents, the jury found the firm and its employees had no blame for what happened.

Some jurors moaned and a few even covered their faces with papers in their hands when Judge J. Stephen Czuleger told them their work was not yet done. They began hearing testimony Sept. 6.

Bardack attorney H. James Keathley, in his closing argument Wednesday, said his client did not expect after spending $6.5 million for the 6,600-square-foot mansion that he would be faced with prohibitive costs to fix all the damage.

"They're trying to saddle Mr. Bardack with the cost of repairing this house," Keathley said. "He did not agree to buy a home that leaks like a sieve."

Attorney Paul Fine, on behalf of the Tomjanoviches, said his clients were honest in their dealings with Bardack, but were not sophisticated when it came to the complex language of homeowner-seller agreements.

"There was no intent to conceal facts," Fine said.

Tomjanovich, who coached the gold medal-winning U.S. men's Olympic basketball team of 2000 and played in the NBA as a small forward for the Houston Rockets, also was not familiar with the construction and maintenance of homes, Fine said.

"Tomjanovich is a jock and a coach, not an architect and a contractor," Fine said. Tomjanovich was looking for a home in Los Angeles in 2004 after he was lured from Houston to replace Phil Jackson when the legendary Laker coach left after his initial stint with the team, according to trial testimony.

Tomjanovich settled on the San Onofre Drive residence and bought it from "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis for $4.25 million. But Tomjanovich resigned after 41 games due to health issues. He remained with the Lakers in an administrative and scouting capacity, eventually left the team and decided to sell the Pacific Palisades home and return to Houston.

According to Keathley's court papers, the Tomjanoviches knew as early as September 2004 that glass railings surrounding the patios were installed in a way that allowed water to run down the glass and under the stone on the decks.

Two months later, rain came through a skylight and caused damage to a foyer and and flooring, but instead of hiring a contractor to fix the problem, the Tomjanoviches had a handyman repair the damage, according to Keathley's court papers.

"Within a few months of escrow closing, during the rains in January and February 2008, Bardack discovered that there were water intrusion problems emanating from leaking windows throughout the house and a skylight area in the entry," Keathley's court papers state. "The ceiling in the foyer collapsed. The wetness of the exterior stucco revealed areas which appeared to have been patched."

Keathley maintained the Tomjanoviches did not disclose the existence of reports detailing the various problems with the home to Bardack and that they had the exterior of the home painted to hide patching and prior water leaks.

Keathley and Fine had different opinions concerning the credibility of actress Ryanne Duzich, who lived with the Tomjanoviches for nearly two years. She testified that she saw no water stains under the home's balconies even though several other people said they were very visible.

Keathley implied that she likely was biased, but Fine said Duzich spent more time at the home than anyone and was in a position to know best. Duzich had a role in the 2004 film "Friday Night Lights" that starred Billy Bob Thornton.

Bardack still lives in the home, according to Keathley, who made two alternative recommendations for damages. Under a breach-of-contract approach, jurors can award Bardack up to $3 million, he told the panel. However, under another theory involving concealment, intentional and negligent misrepresentation and negligent non-disclosure, the jury can order the Tomjanoviches to pay Bardack up to $2.8 million, he said.

Fine urged the panel to find the couple liable for no damages. But he said that if they find they should pay something to Bardack, it should be limited to $650,000.

The 63-year-old Tomjanovich played in the NBA as a small forward for the Houston Rockets. In December 1977 he was punched and almost killed by Laker Kermit Washington during an on-court melee at the Forum in Inglewood. He was sidelined for five months.

A second phase of trial is scheduled to begin at a still undetermined date against other defendants, including Francis.


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