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Muir contractor calls license trouble 'clerical'

Kenneth Klemin from Stocton's don Lawley Co. works on demolishing the old John Muir School in Modesto on Friday.  Razing of the building, which also housed the Modesto Community Service Center, began this week.
Kenneth Klemin from Stocton's don Lawley Co. works on demolishing the old John Muir School in Modesto on Friday. Razing of the building, which also housed the Modesto Community Service Center, began this week. Modesto Bee

The city contractor told Monday to stop work on the old John Muir schoolhouse because of a suspended license maintained Tuesday that it is qualified but made a clerical error leading to the suspension.

Don Lawley Co. Inc. is working with the Contractors State License Board to reinstate its credential, owner Rod Lawley said.

The city issued the company a $58,000 contract to demolish the fire-ravaged building on East Morris Avenue earlier this month, but halted the work after learning about the license.

"We've been in business since the early 1980s, and my dad and this company have done business with Stockton, Modesto and Lodi for years," said Lawley, 47. "We're not some fly-by-night company contracting without a license. This is really a clerical thing. Our staff is qualified, and we are overinsured.

"I'm not trying to paint that we didn't do anything wrong. We obviously made a mistake, but it was not a malicious mistake. It was a mistake of not knowing."

He said he took over the family business about three years ago from his father, Donald Ray Lawley.

The elder Lawley died of cancer in June. Within several days, Lawley said, his cousin -- licensed contractor Steve Hay -- joined the company as general manager. But the family didn't know that it needed to contact the state licensing board to note that someone with state qualifications had joined the company. That's required within 90 days of a death.

So the license was suspended.

Lawley said he didn't receive notice until Thursday, when he said he received a letter dated Feb. 2 from the licensing board informing him that his license was suspended as of Feb. 1.

"I spent all day Thursday and Friday trying to talk to a human being (with the state licensing board)," Lawley said. "My gut feeling was that, 'We've been in business a long time, and this is strictly a clerical thing, and they will reinstate it, no problem.' When I found out it wasn't, that you can't do anything like that with the license board, I stopped the crew."

The Bee placed a call to the city inquiring about the license Monday morning. Crews continued to work while Lawley and city officials said they were investigating whether Lawley could continue working under a subcontractor's license.

They eventually decided that wouldn't work, said Julie Hannon, acting director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department.

A subcontractor started work Thursday rinsing down the brick building. And a Don Lawley Co. employee used machinery to knock down walls Friday, but Lawley said the employee and another one on the job Friday were working for a subcontractor, Stockton-based L&B Environmental Inc., so the workers were under a licensed contractor.

Hannon said the city is giving Lawley time to get its license back in good standing.

In the meantime, the company has to lay off six laborers and machine operators until the com- pany has its license back, Lawley said.

"We can't get any work," Lawley said. We don't have any (financial) choice."

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 578-2324.

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