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State reinstates case against home builder

One look at an angry customer's home was enough to revive charges against a well-connected builder.

After inspecting a disgruntled owner's new home, the state's top business regulator has rejected a settlement agreement with the contractor _ who also happens to be president of the Florida Home Builders Association.

Cynthia Henderson, who a month ago was prepared to drop disciplinary charges against builder Edwin Henry, is now prepared to have the Department of Business and Professional Regulation make a case against Henry before an administrative law judge.

The decision comes about a month after Henderson decided to visit the Okaloosa County home of Hayward Hornsby, a Delta Air Lines pilot who has fought for years to prove to state regulators that the house Henry built for him is riddled with defects.

Despite brick walls that seem to move with the slightest pressure, an unlevel floor and other problems, the agency was prepared to drop the Hornsby case and others against Henry in exchange for an agreement that he would fix the problems.

That changed when Henderson read in the Times in July that Hornsby had won a civil suit against Henry forcing the contractor to buy back the $128,000 home. She delayed the settlement agreement and has now scrapped it entirely.

"We wanted to look into this and we did," said Natalie Kelly, a department spokeswoman. "We're going to reject the mediated agreement. Really what we're doing is standing up for (the homeowner's) rights."

Attorneys on both sides of the dispute were to appear before the state Construction Industry Licensing Board in Orlando today to give their approval to a negotiated settlement agreement, but that won't be happening now.

In effect, Henderson's decision to repudiate the settlement agreement sends the case back to an administrative law court, where both sides have already presented their cases. The case was suspended as the two sides hammered out the agreement, but Henry's attorney, Neil H. Butler, is now asking the judge to revive the case in the wake of the agreement's demise.

Henry could now be cleared by the judge or face discipline potentially ranging from a requirement to fix the house to the loss of his contractor's license.

In an Aug. 9 letter to administrative law judge Diane Cleavinger, Butler requested that she order the two sides to submit proposed recommended orders to her within 45 days.

Before the settlement agreement seemed likely, both the agency and the builder were mired in a lengthy and expensive case that traced its roots back to the mid-1990s.

After Gov. Jeb Bush was elected last year, he appointed Henderson to the business regulatory post.

Her newly appointed legal staff reviewed the case and found it inconclusive. They recommended the case be settled.

But some homeowners who were unhappy with their Henry homes concluded that the new administration was bowing to pressure from the state home builders association.

Then, when the pilot prevailed in court, Henderson decided to review the case once more.