It seemed to be a storybook ending. Crime writer Patricia Cornwell and her partner had won a $50.9 million lawsuit after a jury found that they were duped by their financial management company and its former principal, Evan Snapper, who was in charge of their finances.
But, in a twist, the award was overturned.
Rather than continue the court battle by going through a new trial, Cornwell’s lawyer announced Thursday that Cornwell will instead move on.
Because of the judge’s post-trial ruling last year that vacated the jury’s decision, citing technical legal matters, Cornwell believed it would be easier to appeal the case than to again bring it before a jury.
“I feel as if the plaintiffs have been placed in an unfortunate position,” an emotional Joan Lukey, Cornwell’s lawyer, told US District Judge George A. O’Toole. “You took away the effect of that trial.”
Cornwell will still appeal the original case to a higher court in Boston, maintaining that the jury’s award was “a wonderful vindication after all that my business managers Anchin, Block & Anchin had done to us.”
Lukey said she will appeal the overturned case immediately, but said a retrial of the case before a jury isn’t worth the effort.
O’Toole’s decision to vacate the jury’s verdict and order a new trial limited the scope of evidence that could be brought in a new case. It also limited what Cornwell could demonstrate in a civil trial, narrowing her claims so that even if Cornwell were successful, Lukey said in court, a jury could award only $7 million at most.
More likely, she said, the award would be closer to $2 million, not worth the expenses it would take to retry the case.
Lukey asked the judge to end his jurisdiction in the case so that she can ask a federal appeals court to restore the jury’s verdict.
Cornwell, who sat in the front row of the courtroom but did not speak during Thursday’s court hearing, said in a statement to the Globe, “Given that the jury spoke loudly in our favor, we are committed to honoring their decision and ensuring that justice is served.”
Anchin released a statement through one of its lawyers, Jack Pirozzolo, saying, “We are pleased that the plaintiffs have stated that they will take action to avoid a second trial. As a result of their intended actions, and the Court’s prior decisions, the Court will enter a final judgment dismissing all claims against our firm. We look forward to a favorable conclusion to this matter through the appellate process.”
The announcement by Cornwell’s lawyer was the latest twist in a case that began in 2009, and had all the dramatics of one of Cornwell’s crime novels, featuring the heroic medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.
Cornwell, a native of Florida who lives in Boston, had sued her financial company, Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, and Snapper, alleging negligence and claiming they mismanaged her finances in a way that cost her tens of thousands of dollars. She also alleged that Snapper ran her finances in a way that personally benefited him, and one of the storylines of the trial was of Cornwell and her partner, Staci Gruber, digging through receipts to uncover the alleged wrongdoing. There were claims of unaccounted-for cars, helicopter rides, and financial losses from a rare book collection.
One of the central points of the trial was that Anchin officials maliciously retaliated against Cornwell after she filed the lawsuit by reporting to the US Department of Justice that she violated campaign finance laws.
She was cleared of any wrongdoing and Snapper was ultimately convicted of campaign finance violations.
After a 26-day trial, the jury awarded Cornwell $50.9 million, on core counts of negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.
The jury foreman, who requested anonymity to avoid publicity from the trial, told the Globe at the time that the verdict was a message to Anchin that “if you are performing on someone else’s behalf, you have a responsibility toward them.”
A year after the verdict, O’Toole said in a standard review of his decisions in the case that he had erred “as a matter of law,” and overturned his decisions relating to certain evidence in the case, including the claims that Anchin retaliated against Cornwell by seeking the Department of Justice investigation.
The judge acknowledged that some of the claims in the case were not affected by his errors, but still ordered a new trial, saying, “There is no way to assess what the verdict on the remaining claims properly subject to jury evaluation would have been.”
Lukey said Thursday that the decision to limit some of the key evidence in the case effectively dilutes the overall claims that Anchin maliciously wronged Cornwell and her company.
“We feel the [remaining] claims would be presented in a way that significant context would be lacking,” she said.