MetroLink Jurors Begin Deliberations in Shrewsbury Project Case

Daily Record (St. Louis, MO/St. Louis Countian) – Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires
By Donna Walter

Jurors began deliberating on Monday in the three-month-long fraud trial against Cross County Collaborative, the builders of the eight-mile MetroLink extension to Shrewsbury. The fraud lawsuit, filed by Metro, the light-rail train’s operator, centered on a cost overrun of more than $125 million and a 15-month delay in the project. During six hours of closing arguments, attorneys for the defendant engineering companies that make up the CCC blamed the delays and cost overrun on changes the agency ordered. But instead of acknowledging the extra costs created by the changes, Metro decided the collaborative would be the perfect scapegoat, the defense attorneys told the jury.

The collaborative consists of Parsons Brinckerhoff, STV Inc., Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. and Kwame Building Group Inc. Lawyers for each of the companies took turns presenting key points to jurors Monday afternoon. James Bennett, who represents STV, accused Metro of scripting the testimony of witnesses and employees. “We have been called dishonest and incompetent,” he said. “The one award we can get is a verdict from you saying we did our job.” To win, Metro must prove the Shrewsbury project was a complete failure, but it can’t do so because the light-rail system is up and running, Bennett said. Jan Miller, an attorney for Metro, said CCC is the only party that has not accepted responsibility for its mistakes. Metro has accepted responsibility, he said, to the tune of $74 million in cost overruns. But cost overruns totaled much more, he said. “They didn’t just mess up on one thing; they messed up on virtually everything,” Miller said. But, according to the CCC lawyers, Metro set artificial deadlines to acquire permits and needed real estate and to relocate utilities. The agency was trying to establish that it had a guarantee from CCC when it came to these aspects of the project, said Al Peacock, an attorney for Jacobs Engineering. But CCC would never guarantee deadlines or other necessary actions, he argued. Mark Grantham, an Atlanta attorney for Parsons Brinckerhoff, talked about the additional costs caused by Metro’s decision in 2002 to lower tracks along parts of the line. The change prompted the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to require changes, Grantham argued. He said Metro agreed to pay for those changes before reneging on its agreement and then terminating the contracts with the CCC. Miller acknowledged changes were made after 30 percent of the project had been designed, but he emphasized that many changes had nothing to do with the construction work itself. “Don’t for a minute believe all of these minor changes were anything significant as far as the workload [is concerned],” he said. Mary E. Nelson, a St. Louis attorney for Kwame, said the issue was credibility. Metro wants the jury to find that CCC didn’t say when it would meet certain deadlines, but that’s not true, she said. “No one but a psychic could have provided more reliable information on utility relocation,” she said about that aspect of the project. The CCC was relying on the “you-messed-up-you-trusted-us defense,” Miller said. After six hours of closing arguments, jurors left the courtroom at about 4:45 p.m. to begin deliberations.

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