Sue Me, Sue You Blues


What’s the cure for lawsuit blues? Sue your attorneys:

Now filling dozens of boxes stacked in the dining room and garage of their suburban Boca Raton home, the legal fight has destroyed the Lansons’ lives.

Meryl Lanson wants to prove the legal system — attorneys, judges and other professionals — conspired against them.

She sued her former attorneys for malpractice. She filed complaints with the Florida Bar and the Judicial Qualifications Commission. She wrote letters to former Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Charlie Crist and copied the missives to the entire Florida Legislature. She has created websites, decrying the legal system and what it has done to her family.

Last month, she filed another federal lawsuit, accusing Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen of violating her rights to represent herself in a still-unresolved lawsuit that was initially filed in 1999.

`A HORROR’

”Get on with your life? How do you get on with your life?” she asks, mocking the advice many have given her. “This is a horror. They destroyed our business. They destroyed our reputation. They took our money and used it to destroy us. They’re going to put me back to where I’m entitled to be.”

Those who think she’s suffering from psychological problems are partially right. It’s just one of the many scars of the prolonged litigation. And, she says, she has a medical diagnosis to prove it.

It’s called legal-abuse syndrome.

Oy. Where to start? Although I sympathize with the situation of the Barons, and we all know the strain and stress of lengthy legal proceedings, from what I can tell the bankruptcy court and others in the legal system acted as they should:

While working to help Lanson for years, she has recently entered the legal arena with her. Using the Americans With Disabilities Act, Huffer has asked that Lanson receive accommodations so representing herself in court is less traumatic.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Hyman this year approved most of the requests, which included taking frequent breaks, giving Lanson extra time to file court briefs and having an advocate beside her in the courtroom. He rejected her request for videotaping, explaining it’s not allowed in federal courts.

At one tense hearing, Miami-Dade’s Cohen was equally obliging.

Cohen, having handled drug court for many years, said she is accustomed to dealing with people who have psychological problems, including PTSD, and making accommodations for them.

”There’s nothing here that’s offensive to me,” she said of the requests. But it might be difficult to ensure that “all misinformation [be] immediately corrected on the record.”

WANTS NEW JUDGE

Lanson left the hearing before most of Cohen’s comments were made.

Still upset over remarks Cohen made at a previous hearing, in which the judge said litigation was Lanson’s ”raison d’tre,” Lanson insisted she needed a new judge.

She also presented Cohen with the lawsuit she filed against her in federal court in West Palm Beach.

”I don’t trust this judge. This judge is biased,” Lanson said, choking back tears. She then fled the hearing.

Initially, she said, the man who embezzled millions from Baron’s was offered a plea deal that would get him probation. When she made an impassioned plea in court, the judge rejected the deal.

David Peterson pleaded guilty and served about 3 ½ years in prison. The Lansons also got about $400,000 in property Peterson bought with the money.

A lawsuit she and her husband filed against their accounting firm for failing to catch Peterson’s thievery ended badly, Lanson said. The accounting firm’s insurer agreed to settle the suit by paying $2.4 million — far less than Lanson said they were promised. The attorneys got $600,000 and court costs came to $146,327. After creditors were paid, Lanson and her husband received less than $100,000, she said.

Naturally Judge Cohen is somehow involved. I certainly would grant this recusal motion.But “ended badly”? What am I missing here? When all else fails, sue your lawyers:

The conclusion of the bankruptcy was equally unsatisfying. Filed as a Chapter 11 reorganization, the Lansons expected to be able to save their retail chain. When the bankruptcy process was over, they were forced to sell what was left of the business.

Convinced their attorneys bungled both cases, the couple in 1999 sued lawyers Marc Cooper, Ron Kopplow and Sonya Salkin. That is the case pending before Cohen.

In April 2007, Hyman said he found no evidence of fraud. ”The court is not without sympathy for the Lansons, who have clearly suffered losses,” he wrote in a 39-page ruling.

Like Hyman, those representing the attorneys say they sympathize with the Lansons. ”It’s sad. It’s unfortunate,” said attorney Robert Klein, who represents Kopplow. “They went from being the toast of the town to nothing. They thought they would come out with extraordinary sums of money.”

Klein is skeptical about the existence of legal abuse syndrome, but after nearly a decade of litigation, he suspects the attorneys Lanson is suing are starting to experience some of the symptoms.

Pending since 1999? Hit it, Georgie:

Hold the block on money flowMove it into joint escrowCourt receiver, laughs, and thrillsBut in the end we just pay thoselawyers their billsWhen you serve meAnd I serve youSwing your partners, all get screwedBring your lawyerAnd I’ll bring mineGet together, and we could havea bad timeWe’re gonna play the sue me, sueyou blues