There is a rift between Erath County and Cross Timbers Title Company.
And both sides believe they are right. Now, it’s up to lawyers to sort it all out.
The county says they are entitled to a copy of the digital images Cross Timbers Title has produced using the county records based on their promise and a letter.
Cross Timbers Title says the county gave them no special considerations and never signed the contract sent to them and the letter the county is basing their claim on has been taken out of context.
Kevin Watson, vice president and general manager of the company, said if the county had followed through with the contract and given them special accommodations to make the job easier, he would have gladly handed over the records in the new digital format.
Erath County Attorney Carey Fraser reported in Commissioners’ Court Monday, that he had been in touch with the company’s attorney, Jim Parker, who has asked for more time to follow up due to a capital murder trial in Comanche County that has him tied up. Fraser said Parker had asked his legal opinion on why Cross Timbers should provide the images.
“It’s very clear to me,” Fraser said. “I appreciate Mr. Parker’s invitation to be able to show him that. The law recognizes contracts even when they’re not totally written down.”
Fraser said that under the circumstances he feels Parker should be given more time and would send a response by fax Monday afternoon accommodating his request.
In a letter dated June 5, 2006 and signed by Kevin Watson, his company offered to convert the county records to a “digital format.”
The letter in part read, “Cross Timbers Title Co. is prepared to provide this service to the county free of charge. In order to do this, we will set up a digital scanner in the Erath County Clerk’s office and we are prepared to conform to any standards set by the county for the handling of the original record books.”
Watson said the letter was sent to entice County Clerk Gwinda Jones to sign a contract that was sent previously. And the signed contract never came.
Regarding the contract he said, “It’s like it disappeared off the face of the planet. There was no verbal agreement as far as we’re concerned at all,” Watson said.
But, when another company called DFW Scanning to set up shop in the courthouse lobby with four big pieces of scanning equipment and he was made to sign the same application of rules that they were, all negotiations were off, he said. Watson said his company never heard back from the clerk so they assumed their offer had been rejected.
Watson said his company was given a 2 x 2 foot space in the courthouse basement with not enough room for a full size computer. “We had to use a laptop,” Watson said.
“Our whole intention was to create good will with the county. Now, it’s out of hand,” Watson said. “I would like to find a way to work this out.”
Watson said, “We started off on the right track — if they had signed the contract and followed through on the provisions - I would have no problem in handing over those images,” Watson said.
“I think the law recognizes that the letter can be the offer and her (Jones) conduct on starting to perform is the county’s acceptance of that offer,” Fraser said.
Fraser said that Jones allowed the title company to take microfilm off premises and she would never have done that had she not been acting in good faith on their promise.
Watson said taking the microfilm could be considered a special concession but “not really” since it was not an original document, but a copy of a document. The only reason he offered to use the microfilm was to cut down on the congestion in the courthouse and to protect the original books that were “in a fragile condition.” Watson said he sacrificed image quality using the microfilm and some of it was not even readable.
“It benefited both of us,” Watson said.
The county “drug its feet” for so long in drafting rules for copying procedures and such, Watson said it caused his company to open three months late.
“It would have even been longer if we had not known government code,” Watson said. “We were held up waiting for the clerk’s office to get their rules together.”
“He absolutely got special consideration,” Fraser said. “The clerk did not have to let the microfilm go. She (Jones) made that happen. He got special consideration that was time and money saving.”
Fraser said he was aware of the contract that Watson referred to and said the letter was clearer than the contract because it had a lot of blanks and it was not signed by anybody, he said.
“The proposed contract was like the letter - the definite parts of it,” Fraser said. “The only addition in the contract was that they wanted to be able to take the bound volumes out and copy them in their office. It’s not that much different from the letter.”
At the close of the discussion, County Judge Tab Thompson said, “We have fulfilled our part of the agreement and we’re very hopeful they will fulfill theirs.”