Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Williams sisters testify in second `Battle' court case

AP , WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

Venus Williams, left, listens with sister Serena on Friday to opening statements at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, during a breach-of-contract lawsuit brought by promoters against them and their father.

PHOTO: AP

The father of Venus and Serena Williams testified on 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 two daughters are accused of reneging on a deal to play in the event, costing promoters millions of US dollars and prompting a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the family.

"I was never Venus and Serena's manager, never," Richard Williams said.

Carol Clarke and Keith Rhodes, promoters and 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 for unspecified damages.

The Williams sisters did not sign a 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. On Monday, the plaintiffs' attorneys showed jurors copies of tax returns from 1998 through 2000 for Richard Williams' company that indicate he was paid nearly US$2 million in "management fees" by his daughters.

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 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 began on Friday and is expected to last five weeks. Jurors have the option of finding only Richard Williams liable, but they could also find the sisters and their father liable together or dismiss the allegations.

The sisters were in court on 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 yesterday for cross-examination.

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