Attorney denies he no longer represents wrongful death case clients

Amelia Flood Jun. 30, 2010, 2:41am


A St. Louis attorney claims he cannot be held in contempt of a St. Clair County court because he has never withdrawn from wrongful death case that saw his last appearance in a courtroom in January.

Attorney James Schottel Jr. filed his response to a June 3 order signed by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Patrick Young that orders Schottel to appear in Young's courtroom today to explain why Young should not find Schottel in contempt of previous court orders.

Those orders mandated the repayment of clients Michael and Cynthia Anderson's $1,600 retainer as a condition for allowing Schottel to end his representation of them.

Schottel claims he still represents his clients, although he has been absent from hearings much of this year.

The hearing today is set for 9:30 a.m.

The Andersons are suing the estate of convicted racketeer Thomas Venezia and Robert Staack for the wrongful death of their 22 year-old daughter, Jennifer Anderson.

Jennifer Anderson was found dead in the home she shared with Venezia in Belleville five years ago.

Venezia was also found dead.

Both victims died from gunshot wounds.

The Belleville Police Department ruled the deaths a murder-suicide.

Jennifer Anderson's parents claim that Staack negligently entrusted a gun to the ailing Venezia who was suffering from ill-health and emotional issues.

Since the suit's 2007 filing, neither defendant has been served.

Schottel filed to withdraw from the case in September 2009, citing his wheelchair-bound status and staffing issues at his office that prevented him from appearing in St. Clair County court.

After missing hearings following his September motion to withdraw, Young granted the withdrawal on the condition that Schottel return the Andersons' $1,600 retainer.

Young entered that order Dec. 9, 2009.

Schottel has not returned the money to date.

Schottel has not appeared personally in Young's courtroom since January.

His last recorded appearance at a hearing in the case came by telephone conference in Young's chambers the same month.

In that conference, Young denied Schottel's plea to reconsider his previous orders mandating that the St. Louis attorney repay the $1,600 retainer the Andersons paid him in order to withdraw from the case.

Schottel subsequently filed a plea with the state Supreme Court asking that it grant him a writ of mandamus, an order that would force Young to allow Schottel to the keep the retainer.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the plea in March.

Since then, several status conferences and hearings have passed without filings by Schottel and without his attendance.

Schottel did not attend the June 3 hearing wherein Young entered the order demanding the attorney show cause or face contempt of court sanctions.

In his June 15 response to the June 3 order, Schottel contends that he never received notice of that hearing and that he did not receive a copy of the May 3 order that set it.

Schottel argues that he cannot be held in contempt of court because Young's December order made the return of the money a condition of allowing Schottel to leave the case.

As Schottel has not returned the money, he has not bowed out of the case and he believes that his motion to withdraw is effectively denied.

According to his June 15 filing, Schottel contends he still represents the Andersons and is not in contempt of Young's December 2009 order.

Schottel then asks Young to clarify his June 3 order as to whether that demands he appear before the judge Wednesday or that he pay the money.

"The Court's June 3, 2010 Order is in conflict with the Court's December 9, 2009 Order as the undersigned has deemed his Motion to Withdraw as Attorney abandoned," Schottel's filing reads.

In a clarification entered June 15, Young appears to restate the
June 3 order demanding Schottel appear in his courtroom.

William Berry is also local co-counsel for the Andersons.

No attorneys have entered appearances for the defendants to date.

The case is St. Clair case number 07-L-359.

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