Attorney withdraws in Venezia wrongful death suit, must return $1,600 fee

Amelia Flood Dec. 9, 2009, 10:11am



St. Clair County Circuit Judge Patrick Young ordered St. Louis attorney James Schottel Jr. to return $1,600 that he was paid by the parents of a murdered 22 year-old as a condition for allowing Schottel to end his representation of them.

Schottel's clients, Michael and Cynthia Anderson of Belleville, are suing the estate of deceased racketeer Thomas Venezia and Robert Staack for the wrongful death of their daughter, Jennifer.

Although the suit was brought more than two years ago, neither defendant has been served in the case.

Schottel filed to withdraw from the case Sept. 15, citing the loss of his office staff and the person who helps him due to his use of a wheelchair.

Schottel did not appear at a hearing Sept. 15 nor did he appear at the case's last hearing in November.

Michael Anderson expressed his frustration at the lack of the progress in the case to Young during the Wednesday morning hearing.

Jennifer Anderson was found dead in the Belleville home she shared with Venezia in July 2005. She had been shot in the back of the head. Venezia was also found dead from a gunshot wound. The police ruled the deaths a murder suicide.

The Andersons allege that Staack is guilty of negligently entrusting a gun to Venezia who was allegedly ill and suffering from depression.

The couple was emotional as they addressed the court and presented receipts of their payments to Schottel.

"What we have is a deceased daughter," Michael Anderson said. "We want some answers."

The Andersons told Young that they blame both Schottel and local counsel William Berry of Collinsville for the situation.

"Every time I talk with Mr. Berry, the problem is Mr. Schottel's," Michael Anderson said. "And every time I talk to Mr. Schottel, the problem is Mr. Berry. Neither of them has performed at all in this case."

Michael Anderson told Young that he had placed over 50 calls to both attorneys that have not been returned. He also said that he had offered to transport Berry and Schottel to court appearances using his transport company.

Berry told Young he had only entered in to the case as a favor to the Andersons, not to represent them.

Schottel said that the loss of his staff made it impossible for him to continue, given his physical condition. He said that he had informed the Andersons of that.

Young ordered Schottel to repay the $1,600 retainer the couple paid him in order to withdraw. He then granted the Andersons 21 days to find a new attorney.

During the hearing, Schottel told Young that he had taken the case when no one else would. He also said that he had copied the case file at the Andersons' request and sent it to Edwardsville attorney Thomas Maag.

Maag viewed Tuesday's hearings from the gallery although Young asked if he needed to be part of the proceedings.

"Mr. Maag," Young said, "you appear to be more than a casual interloper here."

"Your Honor, I am just a casual observer in a public courtroom," Maag replied.

The case is set for a case management conference Jan. 11, 2010.

No attorney or filing has been entered on the behalf of the defendants.

St. Clair case number 07-L-359.

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