Lawyer's ground work in Hartford refinery case entitles portion of settlement, suit claims

Steve Korris Sep. 12, 2008, 5:18am


Attorney Jeannine Kelly claims she earned half of a $2,666,666 fee that Mark Goldenberg's firm negotiated in a class action over refinery pollution in Hartford.

Kelly sued Goldenberg Heller Antognoli Rowland and Short in Madison County circuit court Sept. 5, charging breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

"Plaintiff, during the course of her representation, created the basis for the class action cause of action and the legal theory upon which the class action was settled," wrote her lawyer, David Jones of East Alton.

Kelly started working on refinery litigation with Goldenberg's firm in 2002.

They competed against a team of Missouri lawyers representing different plaintiffs.

Both teams sued oil companies, pipelines and others for creating an underground lake of petroleum that releases foul vapors with every rainfall.

The Missouri team pursued a class action, and Goldenberg's team sued for individuals.

In July 2006, Kelly withdrew as counsel.

She wrote to Stack that she accepted a position with a private employer in the Alton area and would no longer engage in private practice.

"The terms of her employment will not allow her to devote any time or resources to continuing representation of private clients, including plaintiffs in this matter," she wrote.

She wrote that she notified the Goldenberg firm of her intention in early June.

Her departure coincided with the firm's decision to abandon individual claims and start negotiating with Equilon and Premcor on a class action basis.

Negotiations quickly led to agreement, and Goldenberg filed a new class action to carry out the settlement.

The Missouri team protested, but Stack granted preliminary approval.

Before Stack could stamp a final order, the agreement collapsed.

Last year, Stack ordered everybody to mediate.

Goldenberg and the Missouri team stopped competing and started cooperating.

This April, they jointly announced a $16 million settlement with Equilon and Premcor, plus a fee of one third - $5,333,333 - for themselves.

Kelly filed a lien against Goldenberg and moved to intervene in the settlement so Stack could enforce the lien.

Stack denied her intervention and granted preliminary approval to the settlement.

She withdrew the lien, signaling that a lawsuit might follow.

When Jones filed it, he rewrote the story of Kelly's departure.

He wrote that she "withdrew from the litigation due to a conflict with the Goldenberg firm and the necessity that she devote more time to another business matter."

"Plaintiff's work performed prior to her withdrawal was intended to be compensated out of the proceeds of any recovery made on behalf of her clients, the Hartford plaintiffs," the complaint states.

"This settlement was reached in its essential terms during Plaintiff's representation of the Hartford plaintiffs, although the class action lawsuit itself had not yet been filed at that time."

Jones asked Stack to place an equitable lien on the fee or impose a constructive trust.

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