Crime writer Patricia Cornwell, who won a $50.9 million lawsuit against her former financial services company only to see it disappear because of a legal technicality, won an appeal Monday, granting her a sequel to the first trial.
The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled late Monday that the trial judge who oversaw the case erred when he vacated the jury’s February 2013 decision. US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. had ruled at the time that he had given the jury incorrect instructions on the law, and that the jury should not have been able to consider certain complaints that Cornwell alleged.
The appeals court ruling vacating O’Toole’s decision means that the case will need to be re-tried, and Cornwell said Monday that she would be willing to present her claims to a jury once again.
“These reinstated issues were the very heart of our case, and we could not be more pleased,” Cornwell said in a statement.
The narrative presented during the 26-day trial in 2013 was like one of Cornwell’s own crime novels. She and her partner, Staci Gruber, a Harvard neuroscientist, alleged that they were duped by their former business managers, Anchin Block & Anchin, and the company’s principal, Evan Snapper.
They accused Snapper of negligence and mismanaging their finances in a way that cost them tens of thousands of dollars, and claimed that he managed their finances in a way that personally benefited him. 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 Department of Justice that she had violated campaign finance laws. Cornwell was cleared of any wrongdoing and Snapper was ultimately convicted of campaign finance violations.
The jury’s $50.9 million verdict was based in large part on the retaliation allegation, which jurors found constituted a breach of fiduciary duty, one of the key complaints in the case.
O’Toole vacated the jury’s decision after finding that he incorrectly instructed the jury on certain matters of law. He also found that Anchin officials’ communications with the Department of Justice were privileged information the jury could not consider, a point that Anchin officials raised after the trial. The appeals court found that the point could not be raised after the trial.
O’Toole had offered to conduct a new trial at that time, but Cornwell’s attorney Joan Lukey said that the judge’s ruling eliminated the heart of Cornwell’s case.
Separately, Anchin officials also welcomed the appeals court ruling, saying it upheld O’Toole’s decision to set aside the jury verdict and rejected all but one of the of many issues that were raised in appeal.
“The only remaining claim concerns the firm’s disclosure to the Department of Justice of information concerning certain campaign contribution violations,” Carter Phillips of Sidlkey Autin LLP, the legal firm that represents Anchin, said in a statement. “The court of appeals remanded that issue to the trial court based on a legal technicality and expressed no view on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claim or Anchin’s defense. Anchin continues to believe that it acted appropriately in reporting this information to the Department of Justice, and will vigorously defend its actions if plaintiffs choose to continue pressing this claim.”
Milton Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.
This story has been updated to include a comment from lawyers for Anchin officials.