Judge resets hearing in Venezia wrongful death suit

By Amelia Flood | Jan 12, 2010

Instead of dismissing a wrongful death lawsuit for lack of prosecution, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Patrick Young has reset a case brought by the parents of a young woman murdered in 2005.

Michael and Cynthia Anderson of Belleville have been unable to find a new attorney to carry on their suit against Robert Staack and the estate of convicted rackateer Thomas Venezia. Their former attorney and their current local counsel did not show up to Monday morning's status conference.

The Andersons sued on behalf of their deceased 22 year-old daughter, Jennifer Anderson, who was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in the home she shared with Venezia. Venezia was also found dead.

It was ruled a murder-suicide by the Belleville Police Department.

The Andersons sued the estate and Staack, whom they claim negligently entrusted a gun to Venezia, who was allegedly ill and depressed at the time of the shootings.

There has been little progress in the Andersons' suit and no service to either defendant in two years.

St. Louis attorney James Schottel Jr., the lead counsel for the couple, had filed to withdraw from the case, citing staffing issues and his disability.

Young granted that request, provided that Schottel return the $1,600 the Andersons already paid him.

Schottel filed a motion Jan. 8 asking the Court to reconsider the order commanding that he return the money. He alleges that there was an underlying conflict of interest to begin with in the case, stemming from actions by co-counsel William Berry. Because of that, the motion argues, Schottel should be able to keep the $1,600 the Andersons paid him.

Young will take up that matter Jan. 20 at 9:30 a.m. In an order, Young wrote, "All parties to be present at this time. [sic] including all attorney's [sic]."

The couple expressed their frustration with the lack of progress in the case, blaming Schottel and Berry for what they called a lack of communication.

In a telephone interview Monday, Cynthia Anderson made the couple's feelings clear.

"I woke up this morning in tears," Cynthia Anderson said. "It's almost like losing her again."

The couple told Young at a December hearing that the two attorneys blamed each other for the lack of progress in the suit. Both attorneys at times have failed to show up for court hearings, despite an offer from Michael Anderson to transport them both using vehicles his transportation company owns.

His wife said Monday that although they had repeatedly asked both attorneys to forward correspondence to them. She said she had never seen Berry's letters that Schottel attached to his Jan. 8 motion.

Because of the attorneys' handling of the case and Venezia's involvement, Cynthia Anderson said that the couple had been unable to find a new attorney.

"Nobody will touch it," she explained.

She and her husband are looking toward St. Louis in hopes of finding someone to take the case.

Although Young may end up dismissing the case, Cynthia Anderson said she would refile it, if she could find another attorney to take it.

"It would be nice to have some kind ... of answers," she said.

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