Fairfax County has accepted a proposed $70,000 settlement ending a year-long legal battle between the county and the construction company that built its new $18.7 million courthouse, officials said yesterday.
County officials labeled the decision a victory in the face of an array of multimillion dollar lawsuits and countersuits over the delayed construction and alleged defects in the modern glass-and-concrete building.
"Looking at the $5.3 million we could have lost," said one county supervisor, "we were very pleased with the settlement."
The tentative settlement came less than a month before a scheduled trial in the case. All the judges who sit in the new courthouse had recused themselves to avoid possible conflicts and an outside judge was scheduled to preside at the trial.
The settlement apparently ends the dispute that marred the construction and opening of the new five-story building, designed to replace the county's quaint but inadequate red brick courthouse. Problems began at groundbreaking when workers dug holes for the building's concrete support pilings in the wrong place. The courthouse was finished a year behind schedule and at $3.4 million over its original estimated cost of $15.3 million.
The legal wars began last year when Equitable Construction Co. Inc., the prime contractor, sued the county for $5.3 million, trying to recover extra costs it said were caused by architectural defects in plans submitted by the county.
County officials countered with a $2.3 million suit alleging that Equitable had not finished the five-story building in the time period set out in its contract with the county.
The proposed settlement calls for Equitable to drop its suit against the county and, after complex legal routing, to pay the county $69,584 in damages, according to sources. County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert yesterday confirmed details of the arrangement.
Lambert said the county still is negotiating conditions involving the $340,000 in attorneys' fees it incurred in the case by hiring outside lawyers.
Officials said the county's own legal staff lacked the expertise to handle a case of the complexity and magnitude of Equitable's $5.3 million complaint against the county.
"When you're talking about $5.3 million, you've got to spend the money to get the kind of expertise you need in a trial like this," said one county board member. The board agreed to the tentative settlement during a closed-door session at Monday's regular board meeting.