Legal malpractice involving Madison County asbestos claim will play out in Ohio

By Record News | Apr 11, 2019

LEBANON, Ohio – Widow Kathleen Jones alleges in Warren County, Ohio court that work comp claims she released on advice from the Gori Julian law firm would have brought a greater recovery than a settlement she accepted. 

She attached the release to a legal malpractice complaint in the county’s court of common pleas, showing AK Steel paid $210,000 to settle claims of her husband, Ralph Jones, who worked 38 years for AK Steel predecessor Armco. 

The record in the original Madison County suit shows she kept $126,000 and divided $84,000 equally among her husband’s five children. 

She hasn’t specified how much she would have received in workers’ compensation, but the firm stated in a brief that she seeks hundreds of thousands. And, actuarial tables for lifetime work comp claims would tilt toward Kathy Jones, because Ralph “Tiger” Jones married a much younger woman. 

Her lawyer, John J. Mueller of Cincinnati, sued Gori Julian, Randy Gori, and current associate judge Barry Julian in 2017. 

Mueller also named Gori Julian lawyers Sara Salger, Erin Beavers, Martavious Thomas, Todd Mathews, and Brandon Belt as defendants. 

The suit claims negligence and vicarious liability of lawyers for the firm and vice versa. 

According to background in the suit, in 2011, Tiger and Kathy requested an information kit on mesothelioma litigation online and received one from Early Lucarelli of Connecticut. 

A person at the firm called and asked them to meet “our attorneys,” and Mathews and Belt came to their home on Dec. 20, 2011. 

Tiger and Kathy believed they came from Early Lucarelli, according to the suit, and they signed a retainer agreement setting a fee of one third and capping costs at five percent of recovery. 

Neither Mathews nor Belt alerted them to the fact that the retainer agreement was with Gori Julian, the suit claims, and that 55 percent of recovery would go to Gori Julian and 45 percent to Early Lucarelli.

The Jones’ agreement was amended to reduce a cap on costs from 5 to 2.5 percent in 2011. An amended agreement attached to the complaint, identified Early Lucarelli but not Gori Julian.  

On Dec. 30, 2011, Gori Julian filed suit for Tiger against AK Steel and 128 other defendants in Madison County. 

AK Steel moved to apply Ohio law but would never bring the motion to a hearing. 

Tiger died in April 2012, and Kathy replaced him as plaintiff. 

Gori Julian moved to add her to the trial docket for July 15, 2013, and associate judge Clarence Harrison granted the motion. 

On Feb. 8, 2013, Kathy and AK Steel stipulated that AK Steel would pay $210,000 and she would dismiss her claim and release future claims. 

On Dec. 3, 2013, Ohio lawyer Joseph Butkovich applied for workers compensation benefits on Kathy’s behalf. 

On Feb. 28, 2014, AK Steel moved to enforce the settlement. 

On March 28, 2014, Butkovich applied for further workers compensation benefits. 

He wrote that Gori Julian told Kathy she released those claims. 

“Gori Julian, through Randy Gori, also advised Kathy Jones that Randy Gori would testify to that effect in a hearing on the motion AK Steel, Armco Steel, filed seeking an order enforcing the settlement it made with Kathy Jones,” Butkovich wrote. 

On April 1, 2014, AK Steel notified Kathy of a hearing May 2, but the docket shows no action that date. 

Gori Julian and Early Lucarelli moved to withdraw as Kathy’s counsel on May 5, “due to a potential conflict.” 

On May 26, Kathy agreed to withdraw her workers’ compensation applications. 

On May 27, Gori Julian and Early Lucarelli withdrew their withdrawal. 

The Jones lawsuit states that the firms were never terminated the relationship and that they handled matters for Kathy until June 2017. 

The complaint names Early Lucarelli and its lawyers as defendants, but Kathy dismissed them a month after she filed the suit. 

Gori Julian retained Joseph Borchelt of Cincinnati to challenge jurisdiction. 

Last March, he moved to dismiss the suit so Kathy could file it in Illinois.


“Notably, the plaintiff chose to hire an Illinois firm to file an asbestos claim in a favorable Illinois jurisdiction,” Borchelt wrote. 

In response in April, Mueller wrote, “Defendants voluntarily entered Ohio to solicit business from the Joneses…Defendants deliberately reached out beyond Illinois and entered into a contract with the Joneses to provide continuing or ongoing legal services over an indeterminate time.” 

Muller wrote that Gori Julian derived substantial revenue from the contract. 

In reply in May, Borchelt wrote, “The Gori defendants never solicited the plaintiff’s business. The opposite is true.” 

He wrote that three attorneys had random and attenuated contacts with Ohio, and that Kathy could have contacted Ohio lawyers but contacted an Illinois firm for a friendly Illinois venue.  

Judge Robert Peeler denied the motion last June, finding the alleged damage occurred in Ohio. 

He wrote that the facts more than demonstrated that the defendants transacted business in Ohio, and that they could reasonably anticipate being hauled into an Ohio court. 

Gori Julian sought relief at the 12th District appellate court, where Mueller challenged jurisdiction. 

Mueller wrote that Peeler didn’t enter a final and appealable order. 

Borchelt argued that the 12th District court once found a similar order appealable. 

The 12th District overturned the precedent in November, finding other appellate courts had set opposite precedents. 

Borchelt answered the complaint on Dec. 12, more than a year after Kathy filed it.  He wrote that she failed to state a claim, she waived and released her claims, and a statute of limitations ran out. 

He moved to compel Butkovich’s compliance with a subpoena in January, and he moved to compel Mueller’s compliance with a subpoena in February. 

He wrote in the Mueller motion that in Ohio, a person alleging legal malpractice must prove the case within the case. 

On March 12, Mueller moved to quash a subpoena on lawyer James Langendorf. 

He wrote that Langendorf provided legal services to Tiger and Kathy but not on the Illinois case. 

He wrote that he asked Langendorf to defer a response to the subpoena. 

He wrote that Kathy didn’t authorize Langendorf to accept it. 

Peeler has set a status conference May 1.    

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Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney & Meise Madison County

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