Former Goldenberg attorney alleges misconduct in Hartford fee battle

Steve Korris Sep. 9, 2010, 2:11am


Jeannine Kelly, seeking millions in fees from settlements of refinery pollution suits, claims to possess a document that proves misconduct at the Goldenberg Heller firm.

Kelly previously alleged she withdrew from the litigation due to concerns over the firm's conduct in mediation, but only now has she described her evidence.

"Ms. Kelly prepared a memorandum to warn her clients, but was threatened with legal action that she would breach the confidentiality requirements of the mediation," wrote her lawyer, Michael Downey of St. Louis, on Aug. 17.

He opposed the firm's motion to dismiss her suit.

Kelly and the firm signed a joint agreement to represent more than 80 Hartford property owners asserting claims against several oil companies.

"Ms. Kelly spent more than four years representing the Hartford residents, working over 1,800 hours on these cases," Downey wrote.

"Ms. Kelly's environmental law experience and background allowed Goldenberg Heller and Ms. Kelly to convince the plaintiffs with the best claims and most serious injuries to become their mutual clients," Downey wrote.

"Ms. Kelly also was critical in formulating the theory of liability against the oil companies," he wrote.

"She even prepared the documents that served as Hartford plaintiffs' submissions for the key 2006 mediation, which served as the framework for class settlements entered after her withdrawal," he wrote.

"Ms. Kelly ultimately withdrew from representing the Hartford residents because she objected to how Goldenberg Heller was prosecuting the litigation," he wrote.

Goldenberg Heller received more than $6 million in fees from settlements with BP, Shell Oil and Equilon Enterprises, he wrote.

Kelly sued the firm in 2008.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth dismissed her complaint in January but allowed her to amend it.

A new complaint linked her withdrawal to ethical concerns, alleging the firm acted in a way that might have been jeopardized the interests of Hartford residents.

For Goldenberg Heller, John Papa of Granite City again moved to dismiss.

He wrote that Kelly couldn't prove that the firm induced her to withdraw.

He wrote that if she had ethical concerns, she should have warned their joint clients.

That provoked Downey's revelation of the memorandum she never sent.

Downey wrote that a promise of compensation from Mark Goldenberg made it more likely that she would withdraw and pursue other employment.

"In short, but for Mr. Goldenberg's unambiguous promise of protection, Ms. Kelly would have remained in the lawsuit and not withdrawn," he wrote.

"To permit Goldenberg Heller to dismiss Ms. Kelly's complaint by blaming her for not revealing their own misconduct would continue to reward Goldenberg Heller for their bad conduct," he wrote.

He wrote that she seeks a lien on fees the firm holds.

"Ms. Kelly has also alleged that she is entitled to receive an equal split – specifically 50 percent – of the fees Goldenberg Heller receives," he wrote.

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