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Legal Briefs (Tampa)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. May 27, 2005
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Legal Briefs (Tampa)

Fabric King's widow seeks

$6 million from her ex-lawyer

When her marriage failed about two years ago, Courtney Orleans retained the same attorney who had drafted her prenuptial agreement nearly seven years earlier.

Orleans, 56, now claims the advice she received from Tampa attorney Lewis H. Hill III over a marital settlement agreement has cost her in excess of $6 million. She hired St. Petersburg attorney Peter Meros to file a malpractice complaint May 11 in the Hillsborough County courts against Hill and his law firm, Foley & Lardner LLP.

The complaint claims Hill rushed her into the June 2003 marital settlement despite her husband's worsening health condition. Her husband, Eli Blumenfeld, died about a month later at age 81. She also claims Hill failed to disclose that her husband tried to retain him as his divorce lawyer prior to the settlement.

By the time he married in 1996, Blumenfeld had amassed a net worth valued at about $14 million, court records show. He earned his fortune as the Fabric King.

That's the name of the chain of about 50 retail fabric stores he once owned throughout Florida. In the late 1980s, he sold the business.

In the settlement, Orleans accepted $1 million and all stock in Mr. Eli Inc. The corporation's holdings include a single-family home on one acre and about 33 acres of undeveloped residential land in Zephyrhills. Just prior to the settlement Blumenfeld paid off the mortgages on those properties.

The day after the settlement Blumenfeld filed for divorce. The courts dismissed the action a few months later on notice of his death.

Foley Lardner just recently received a copy of Orleans' petition. Tampa attorney Jim Landis, the firm's loss prevention officer, says the firm has not yet made a decision on who will represent Hill and the firm.

"We're going to look at this carefully and respond appropriately," he says.

Hill is listed as retired on the firm's Web site but he serves of counsel.

"Mr. Hill just received an award from the Hillsborough County Bar Association for his 50 years' service to the profession," Landis says. "He's a wonderful man."

Meros declined to comment.

Judge certifies class in lawsuit

against Uniroyal Technology

About five years ago, Uniroyal Technology Corp. unveiled an aggressive marketing campaign to tout the production of high brightness light emitting diodes.

The marketing kits the company distributed then contained small penlights to illustrate the diodes potential. It touted diodes as next generation components for traffic signals and even stadium scoreboards.

Near the same time the Sarasota-based company convinced shareholders in Sterling Semiconductor Inc. that a merger would benefit both companies. Only the Sterling shareholders later would claim the Sarasota company neglected to disclose material problems about its finances and problems at its Tampa manufacturing plant.

Almost three years ago, Sterling shareholders Dennis Avery, Kevin Kelly and David I. Meiselman filed a federal securities action in the U.S. District Court, Tampa, against Uniroyal Technology, Howard R. Curd, chairman and chief executive officer, Robert L. Soran, president and chief operating officer, and George J. Zulanas Jr., chief financial officer.

The defendants denied all accusations and hired Ron Lefton, an experienced securities litigator in the New York office of Greenberg Traurig LLP.

Earlier this month, however, the defendants suffered a set back. U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore certified the plaintiff's lawsuit as a class action. That clears the way for mediation or possibly even a jury trial over the allegations.

Whittemore appointed New York's Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll PLLC as the plaintiffs' lead class counsel and Tampa's Alpert Law firm as liaison class counsel.

Attorney's action in ERISA

litigation costs client $15,200

William Ray Nelson had settled a worker's compensation claim for nearly $100,000 in early 2003 against Rinker Materials Corp. Then he hired Tampa attorney Bill Dickey to file a federal complaint last year in a bid for long-term disability benefits under the company's employee welfare benefit plan.

The company's benefits insurer, Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston, claimed Nelson had no rights to long-term benefits. It convinced U.S. District Judge James Whittemore that Nelson had waived in writing all of his rights to long-term disability benefits in exchange for the workers' compensation settlement.

The judge's favorable ruling for the benefits insurer wasn't enough for Lee Marcus, the Orlando attorney who represents the firm. He accused Dickey of filing a frivolous claim on Nelson's behalf.

Marcus even claims in court records he overheard Dickey say how he and his client " 'were rolling the dice' and that they would 'see how far they could push this.' "

In response, Dickey called Marcus' comments "false, misleading." He asked Whittemore to strike the comments.

The judge rejected the request, however, and assessed $15,203 in attorneys' fees against Nelson.

- David R. Corder


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