Judge Young and Belleville lawyer sued over handling of Venezia wrongful death case

Amelia Flood Sep. 23, 2010, 2:00am

Schottel Jr.


A St. Louis attorney is suing St. Clair County Circuit Judge Patrick Young and Belleville lawyer William Berry over the handling of a wrongful death case involving convicted racketeer Thomas Venezia and his 21 year-old roommate.

James Schottel Jr. claims Young and Berry conspired against him, according to a lawsuit filed on Sept. 8 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. His suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees. He is representing himself.

Schottel Jr., along with Berry, had represented Michael and Cynthia Anderson in a St. Clair County suit filed on behalf of their daughter, Jennifer Anderson, who was murdered in 2005. Belleville police ruled that Venezia, 64, shot Anderson in the back of the head then took the gun and shot and killed himself.

The Andersons filed suit against Venezia's estate and Robert Staack in 2007. Their complaint alleged that Staack negligently entrusted the gun used in the murder to Venezia who was suffering from depression and ill-health.

Young oversaw the Andersons' case until it was dismissed last month for want of prosecution.

According to Schottel Jr., he entered into a contract to represent the Andersons in July 2007.

Upon entering the agreement, the Andersons secured Berry's assistance in the case as local counsel because Schottel Jr. was not licensed to practice in Illinois and would have had to secure a pro hac vice standing to represent them.

Berry, as co-counsel, was to sponsor the pro hac vice application.

The Andersons eventually paid Schottel $1,600 of a $2,000 retainer.

Meanwhile, Berry filed the wrongful death suit.

Schottel Jr. claims that Berry understood he would receive a 25 percent contingency fee.

Schottel Jr. claims that Berry then did not open an estate for Venezia or serve Staack as they had agreed.

Throughout hearings in the suit in St. Clair County, both Berry and Schottel Jr. would blame one another for the case's lack of progress.

Neither defendant was ever served in the Andersons' suit.

Schottel Jr.'s pro hac vice standing was not granted until Aug. 26, 2008.

That same month, Schottel Jr. told his clients he would not be able to represent them due to staffing issues at his office.

He filed to withdraw from the case in September 2008.

Schottel Jr.'s withdrawal was not granted until January of this year as Schottel Jr. missed a number of hearings in Young's Belleville courtroom.

Young had also ordered the return of the $1,600 retainer fee the Andersons paid Schottel Jr. as a condition of his withdrawal.

Schottel Jr. asked Young to reconsider making him return the retainer.

Young denied that move.

Schottel Jr. then filed for a writ of mandamus with the Illinois State Supreme Court, seeking to keep the retainer.

Belleville attorney Stephen McGlynn, who is now a St. Clair County circuit judge, had advised but did not represent the Andersons at that point in the case. McGlynn filed a response to Schottel Jr.'s writ, saying Schottel Jr. "showed zero effort...made by Petitioner to secure service against either named Defendant nor reflected any evidence Counsel did anything to advance litigation."

The Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the argument and denied the writ.

Schottel Jr. would eventually return the retainer and fully withdraw from the case.

Young had threatened to send a body attachment across the Mississippi River to make Schottel Jr. appear for hearing at that time.

Edwardsville attorney Thomas Maag received the Anderson wrongful death file at one point and attended a hearing as a spectator.

Maag did not take the case.

The Andersons were unable to find another attorney to pursue their suit.

In a strange twist in the case, Belleville attorney Timothy Wiltsie spoke from the gallery, asking Young to order Berry to "say who he represents."

Wiltsie also asked for the suit's dismissal.

Young asked Wiltsie what party he represented.

Wiltsie would not say and never entered an appearance in the case.

The Anderson case ended with its dismissal with prejudice Aug. 17.

In his federal suit, Schottel Jr. claims that Young violated his civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The alleged violations include conspiracy, violations of due process, violations of equal protection, and unreasonable search and seizure.

The plaintiff claims the judge ruled that he must return the $1,600 retainer to the Andersons without having the jurisdiction to do so.

He claims that Young was biased against Schottel Jr. because he was a pro hac vice attorney from St. Louis and not an Illinois lawyer.

The plaintiff goes on to claim that the judge and Berry had a "meeting of the minds," and conspired to deprive Schottel Jr. of his rights and the retainer.

"In addition to inflicting the wrong against Plaintiff, Defendant Judge Young protected Defendant Berry, an Illinois attorney, and Defendant Berry protected himself," the complaint reads.

The four counts against Young seek unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees.

Schottel Jr.'s suit includes three counts against Berry.

The first count is for conspiracy.

The second count includes claims of tortuous business interference. In that count, the plaintiff alleges that Berry's interference caused a breach of contract between Schottel Jr. and the Andersons which led to the violations of Schottel Jr.'s civil rights.

The third count is for defamation.

Schottel Jr. contends Berry made false and misleading statements to the court that cast Schottel Jr. in a false light.

The complaint seeks compensatory, punitive and other damages including attorney's fees and costs from Berry.

Young will leave the bench later this year.

McGlynn took over the circuit judgeship left vacant by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley's retirement in July. McGlynn was sworn in on Sept. 17.

The federal case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey

The original wrongful death suit filed by the Andersons is St. Clair case number 07-L-359.

The federal suit filed in St. Louis is case number 4:10-CV-1673.

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