Legal fee dispute escalates in Hartford contamination case

Steve Korris Apr. 15, 2010, 3:47am



Jeannine Kelly has sharpened her attack on Mark Goldenberg's firm in pursuit of fees from class litigation over refinery contamination in Hartford.

A new complaint in her Madison County suit alleges she quit his team because the firm sought to "act in a way that might be disloyal" to Hartford residents.

Kelly alleges the firm was "intent on engaging in conduct that might jeopardize the interests" of Hartford residents.

If so, Goldenberg answers, she should have warned them.

Kelly withdrew from joint representation contracts with the firm in 2006.

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

In 2008, refinery companies Premcor and Equilon reached a settlement that awarded about $2.7 million to the firm.

Kelly sued for half.

Her lawyer, David Jones of Alton, credited her with creating the basis for the theory behind the settlement.

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

He wrote that work performed prior to withdrawal was intended to be compensated out of the proceeds of any recovery made on behalf of Hartford plaintiffs.

This January, Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth dismissed the complaint and gave Kelly a chance to amend it.

She amended it, connecting her withdrawal to ethical concerns.

Kelly is now represented by Michael Downey and Johnny Wang of St. Louis.

For the firm, John Papa of Granite City answered on March 24 that it was impossible to reconcile her positions.

"It was plainly false for her to tell the Court that her new job responsibilities motivated her withdrawal if the real reason was defendant's alleged misconduct as her co-counsel," he wrote.

"If the allegations of plaintiff's current complaint are true, then she failed to fully advise the Court of circumstances that could have been detrimental to her clients," he wrote.

He moved to dismiss the complaint.

"No attorney-client relationship existed between plaintiff and any of the claimants at the time of the alleged recovery," he wrote.

"Plaintiff cancelled those contracts when she voluntarily and unilaterally ended the attorney-client relationship," he wrote.

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