U.S. District Court judge has issued an order dismissing a number of claims filed by novelist Patricia Cornwell, Cornwell Entertainment Inc. and Staci Gruber against Anchin, Block & Anchin and Evan Snapper, thereby setting aside a $50.9 million dollar jury verdict, the firm announced.
In his March 25 order, Judge George A. O’Toole ruled that a number of plaintiffs’ core claims, including “the largest single element of the various claims of damage,” were barred as a matter of law and that those dismissed claims tainted the jury’s entire verdict, which was entered against the firm Feb. 19, 2013. As a result, O’Toole also granted Anchin’s motion for a new trial as to plaintiffs’ remaining claims.
“We are deeply gratified by the court’s ruling setting aside the jury’s verdict and granting our motion for a new trial,” says Anchin MP Frank Schettino. “Moreover, we look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate that the remaining claims brought by plaintiffs are equally devoid of merit.”
Cornwell sued Anchin for negligence and breach of contract, claiming that her net worth had dropped to less than $13 million even though she had earned eight figures each of the prior four years. She also blamed the firm for causing her to miss a book deadline for the very first time, leading to the loss of $16 million in book advances and commissions, when Anchin was unable to find her a quiet place to write during a lengthy renovation of her estate.
According to the suit, Cornwell paid Anchin $40,000 per month to manage her finances, renovate her Concord, Mass., estate and lease an apartment in Trump Tower in Manhattan for her. Cornwell also accused the firm of excessive and unauthorized billing, failing to put the clients’ interests ahead of its own, and gross mismanagement of Cornwell’s and Gruber’s money over four and a half years, which resulted in the loss of millions of dollars.The judge said that he had erred in his instructions to the jury and that the statute of limitations on the book precluded that claim as well. The judge also stated that the jury had wrongly considered evidence that Snapper had reported possible campaign finance violations by Cornwell to the U.S. Department of Justice, even though she was never charged with such violations, but Snapper had pleaded guilty to them.
Schettino tells IPA that while awaiting the judge’s decision, the firm’s goal was to operate “business as usual.” Schettino says revenues have increased and that no partners or staff left their firm because of the issue – “a testament to the belief in the firm.” Anchin is pleased by the judge’s decision but acknowledges that there could still be another trial based on the limited number of remaining claims.
The date for a new trial is uncertain. Cornwell’s attorney, Joan Lukey, of Ropes & Gray of Boston, told the Boston Globe that she and Cornwell are still committed to the case.