Already in a court battle with his former partner on a scuttled Back Bay condo tower, John Fish is now suing his former lawyers, too.
The chairman of construction giant Suffolk on Friday filed suit in Suffolk County Superior Court against law firm Goulston & Storrs, claiming one of the firm’s senior partners committed “legal malpractice,” by advising Fish’s former business partner — developer Stephen Weiner — behind Fish’s back, while billing both for his time.
It’s the latest salvo in the running legal battle between Fish and Weiner over an $800 million dollar condo project that fell apart in 2019, and it drags in one of the city’s most prominent real estate law firms, which advises on countless projects around Boston.
In his 63-page suit, Fish claims that Alan Rottenberg, a top partner in Goulston’s real estate practice, had an “undisclosed personal financial interest” in Weiner’s development firm — Weiner Ventures — and was advising his longtime client about getting out of the deal even as Fish kept putting money into it. While he continued to invest and agree to more debt to appease lenders, Fish claims, Rottenberg was working to minimize the risks of the deal to Weiner and ultimately helped him kill the project shortly before a scheduled groundbreaking in the summer of 2019.
“Goulston & Storrs actively worked with the Weiners to delay the project as a negotiating tool against Fish,” Fish’s attorneys wrote in their suit, calling it “a strategy that ultimately caused the project to not obtain financing and fail.”
He’s seeking $300 million in damages.
The lawsuits between Fish and Weiner — whose firm built the Mandarin Oriental, among other projects — have been flying for about 18 months, ever since the Massachusetts Department of Transportation formally pulled the plug on 1000 Boylston, which was to be a 27-story luxury condo tower built mostly on air rights above the Massachusetts Turnpike near the Hynes Convention Center. In August 2019, on the verge of a planned groundbreaking, Weiner issued a statement ending the project, citing “a combination of factors.”
Weiner and Fish were partners, and Fish has claimed Weiner killed the deal prematurely and publicly, rather than make personal guarantees on loans, a move Fish says cost him $43 million that Suffolk Construction had already spent on pre-development costs. In September, Weiner counter-sued, saying Fish was simply trying to save face by blaming him for the project’s collapse, and noted that Fish’s construction firm was also set for a big payday to build the tower. On Friday, Weiner spokeswoman Dot Joyce said this latest suit was just another effort by Fish to deflect blame.
“Bottom line in this whole thing is he couldn’t uphold his end of the deal,” Joyce said. “Who’s next to blame, and be sued, is the real question.”
The suits between Fish and Weiner are still wending their way through court, and some of the claims made by each party have been dismissed. In bringing their lawsuits, Fish’s current lawyers say they uncovered documents detailing Rottenberg’s relationship with the Weiners, which included owning a 1.5 percent stake in Weiner Ventures that Fish says was never disclosed, as well as what they said were his conflicts of interest by also representing Fish’s interests. They also note that Goulston collected $12 million in legal fees for its work on 1000 Boylston.
“While Fish ultimately lost tens of millions of dollars, Goulston & Storrs benefitted handsomely,” they wrote, “without a shovel having even been put in the ground.”
Goulston, for its part, strongly disputes Fish’s claims, saying it represented neither Fish nor Weiner personally, but rather the business venture that the two formed, and that each party signed a waiver acknowledging that at the start. Fish disputes that claim, saying the only such letter he signed involved a far earlier iteration of the deal in 2010. Rottenberg did not respond to messages seeking comment, but the firm, in a statement, called Fish’s suit “absolutely baseless and without merit.”
“While it is disappointing that the development at 1000 Boylston Street did not proceed, this was not the result of any actions or omissions by Goulston & Storrs,” the firm said. “Neither party received preferential treatment; we treat all of our clients with the same respect and superior service.”