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In the News

DISCLAIMER: Please note that results are based on the merits of the case.


Gerald Sack recently won a landmark decision at the Connecticut Supreme Court concerning the right of a biological father who raised a child believing it was his to receive financial reimbursement for the costs of doing so from the true biological father under theories of fraud, misrepresentation and unjust enrichment. See the news coverage of the case of Fischer v Zolllino below.
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Friday, April 16, 2010
The Hartford Courant

Edition: FINAL - 5
Section: MAIN
Page: A1
Illustration: PHOTO: (B&W), MARK MIRKO |
Caption: ATTORNEY GERALD S. SACK, who represented Andrew Srb in his civil case against Robert Johnson, said Thursday outside Superior Court in Middletown that he wanted to win this case more than any other. “I believe in my client and I wanted to feel he would get justice,”; Sack said.

A Superior Court jury Thursday awarded $1.27 million in compensatory damages to a man who accused Robert Johnson, a Portland equestrian teacher, of sexually assaulting him repeatedly when he was a teenager more than 20 years ago.
The jury of three men and three women also directed that Johnson's accuser, Andrew Srb, now 37, be awarded punitive damages to be decided by Judge Mary-Margaret D. Burgdorff.

Johnson, 53, lashed out at the verdict Thursday, calling it “unbelievable.” He said that he does not have $1.27 million and that the future of his riding school, Quarry Town Stables, currently in foreclosure, was uncertain. He said he would appeal the verdict, which jurors reached after about 2 1/2 hours of deliberations.
“I am not a frigging homosexual,” Johnson said. “I'm the last person on earth to do that to a man or a boy. I like women. That's just gross and disgusting.”

Srb went to Portland police in February 2008 and filed a detailed complaint about an assault in 1987 in which Srb said that Johnson cornered him and pinned him against a wall in a horse stall, according to testimony. Police could not pursue criminal charges against Johnson because the statute of limitations for filing such charges had expired.

In June 2008, Srb sued Johnson, charging him with battery, assault and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Srb testified that the multiple assaults on him when he was a teenager led him to lead a life that spiraled downward into serious mental health problems, addiction, criminal acts, depression and attempted suicide.
In closing arguments, Johnson's attorney, Michael D. Dwyer, cautioned jurors about trusting Srb's words. He said medical reports show that Srb has a history of mental health issues and memory loss. Testimony showed that Srb accrued $94,000 in medical bills for treatment.

In 2001, a jury found Johnson guilty of fondling a 14-year-old female student, and Johnson was sentenced to nine months in prison. During that trial, other females testified about being assaulted by Johnson. Jurors in the most recent trial were told that Johnson had two previous criminal convictions, but no details of the crimes were part of the testimony in the civil case.

Johnson is listed on the state's sex-offender registry and is still on probation from the criminal conviction.
Quarry Town was founded in 1961 by Johnson's parents, Arthur and Barbara Johnson. The school specializes in various aspects of riding and training of show horses. Years ago, the Johnsons turned over the stables to their son and then-daughter-in-law, Robert and Carolyn Johnson. The couple are now divorced. Johnson said that when Srb confronted him in 2008 with the sexual assault allegations, he sought to have a polygraph test so that he could prove his innocence. He said he passed the test.
“It's too bad the tests are not admissible in court,” Johnson said. Srb declined to comment after Thursday's verdict. His brothers, Justin and Benjamin Srb, were in court Thursday when the verdict was read. Andrew Srb's attorney, Gerald S. Sack, said Srb was happy that the case was over.
“We're gratified that the jury paid careful attention to the facts and made their decision based on the evidence,“ Sack said. ”This was a very difficult decision for Andrew to go public with this. Part of the reason he came forward was to try and prevent others from being harmed. He hopes that by doing this, he has achieved that goal.”

ACCUSATION: Andrew Srb says he was assaulted by Robert Johnson decades ago.
$1.27 MILLION: Compensatory damages awarded to Srb.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES: To be decided by the court.
JOHNSON'S REACTION: “I'm the last person on earth to do that to a man or a boy.”
ID: 12608928 (Copyright The Hartford Courant 2010)


Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The Hartford Courant

Edition: FINAL - 5
Section: CTNOW
Page: B2
Dateline: MIDDLETOWN -

A Superior Court judge has added more than $400,000 to a jury verdict against Robert Johnson, the Portland equestrian trainer accused of sexually assaulting a former male student, raising the award to $1,687,610.
Last month, a Superior Court jury awarded $1.27 million in compensatory damages to Andrew Srb, 37, who was a student at Quarry Town Stables more than 20 years ago. At the time of the verdict, the jury said Srb also should be awarded punitive damages, to be decided by Judge Mary-Margaret D. Burgdorff. On Monday, Burgdorff granted a motion by Srb's attorney, Gerald S. Sack, seeking $422,508 in punitive damages.

In June 2008, Srb sued Johnson, charging him with battery, assault and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Srb testified that the multiple assaults on him when he was a teenager led him to lead a life of serious mental health problems, addiction and depression. Testimony showed that Srb accrued $94,000 in medical bills for treatment.

Johnson has denied the allegations and said he is appealing the verdict. Johnson has said that when Srb confronted him in 2008 with the sexual assault allegations, he sought to have a polygraph test so that he could prove his innocence. He said he passed the test. In 2001, a jury found Johnson guilty of fondling a 14-year-old female student, and Johnson was sentenced to nine months in prison. During that trial, other women testified about being assaulted by Johnson.

Jurors in the most recent trial were told that Johnson had two previous criminal convictions, but no details of the crimes were part of the testimony in the civil case.
Johnson is listed on the state's sex-offender registry and is still on probation from the criminal conviction.

ID: 12749693 (Copyright The Hartford Courant 2010)


JULY 20, 2010
From: Cruz, Michelle
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 2:25 PM
To: Gerry Sack
Subject: Congratulations!

Dear Attorney Gerald Sacks: I wanted to commend you on your recent success on behalf of your client, Andrew Srb. As you know, sexual assault victims often delay reporting the crime(s) against them, for a myriad of reasons. Yet, when and if these same victims do come to a place in their lives when they are strong enough and have the support to come forward and report the assault(s), they are often told that the crime cannot be pursued for too much time has passed. There are few attorneys who possess the strength of character to pursue the only means available at this point for this class of victims – the civil suit against the perpetrator.

These civil cases are not easy to bring forward, require a lot of work, and often times the client is fragile and frightened. Your success in the case against Robert Johnson sends a message to victims and the community – a message of hope and justice. I was compelled to write and just let you know that your work will have a ripple effect, not matter how large or small, and will affect the sexual assault victims who may never come forward – by this I mean that a suit against a sexual perpetrator such as the one against Robert Johnson validates the experiences and struggles of so many of the silenced sexual assault victims and lets them know that they are not alone and that there are individuals out there who will fight for them, if they choose to come forward. Furthermore, the success of Srb's case will also, in an indirect but equally valuable manner, validate the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical trauma suffered by so many sexual assault victims.

Again, nice work and congratulations.

Michelle S. Cruz, Esq.
State of Connecticut Victim Advocate
Reprinted with permission of Michelle S. Cruz, Esq.

Split Decision

Monday, October 26, 2009

Six years after their divorce, lawyers still can't agree on how to share fees

Once, Claudia Sarantopoulos Weiss and Martin Weiss were partners in law as well as marriage. Martin's injury law practice and Claudia's matrimonial law efforts in Windham County paid off handsomely. The couple owned a second home in Nantucket, horses, an airplane – leading a life that makes simple country lawyers the envy of their urban peers.

Then in 1999, both the marriage, and law partnership hit the rocks after a calamitous fight. That capped off ”several years of strife and infidelity on the part of both parties,“ as Rockville Superior Court Judge Jane S. Scholl wrote in the couple's divorce decree.

But as one might have expected in a divorce involving two skilled attorneys, the legal issues did not soon fade away. The couple, and their lawyers, went before the state Supreme Court last week. The upshot is that Claudia thinks that she should be sharing proceeds from some of Martin's workers' compensation cases. She is asking the justices to grant her another day in court so she can make her case.

Her husband says she's had that day in court, and that it's time to move on.
The total amount at stake – about $66,000.

Claudia, one of the county's most prominent divorce lawyers, drafted the couple's divorce agreement. She had some difficulties getting all the information she needed, in part because her husband had the locks at their law office changed. A group of law office staffers joined Martin in seeking a federal order barring Claudia from the office, saying they feared her visits. The order was never granted.
One measure of the acrimony in this split-up was the fact that the office staff had separate legal representation in the couple's divorce.
In her lengthy divorce decree, Judge Scholl found fault with some of Claudia Weiss's actions, including offering wildly different income estimates on two documents and ducking jury duty by stating she was a Nantucket, Mass., resident.
But, in terms of the current dispute, the more important part of the divorce settlement was this: Martin Weiss would pay Claudia one-third of his contingency fees from “personal injury cases” that were initiated before the break-up.

FOI Check

After the divorce became final in 2003, Claudia Weiss practiced law with, and later married, Stephen St. Claire. One day, St. Claire was at a workers' compensation hearing at which Martin Weiss also had a pending matter, a case that had been initiated before his marriage broke up.

St. Clair found that it wasn't on the list of “personal injury cases” whose proceeds Martin had agreed to share with Claudia. St. Claire did a Freedom of Information search and found 88 other workers' comp cases not included in the divorce settlement.

Claudia Weiss asked for a clarification from Judge Scholl. The judge, without hearing additional testimony, concluded that workers' compensation matters are not a subset of “personal injury cases.” She said if Claudia Weiss had wanted a piece of her husband's workers' comp pie, she should have spelled that out in the divorce agreement.
When Claudia Weiss attempted to appeal that ruling to the Appellate Court, Martin Weiss argued it was not an appealable final judgment, and the matter was dismissed.

Undaunted, in 2002, Claudia sued on a contract theory in federal court, claiming that the contract dividing the law practice was separate from the divorce decree. (Claudia Weiss was living in Massachusetts at the time, and gained federal jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship grounds.) U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton called the contract theory “disingenuous,” and ruled that the law practice split was “inextricably” intertwined with the divorce. And since the mid-1800s, federal courts have completely avoided matrimonial law disputes.
So Claudia Weiss headed back to state court. In 2005, she alleged breach of contract, fraud and statutory theft in a five-count complaint against her ex-husband. The case once again centered on whether a workers' comp case is a type of personal injury case. Putnam Superior Court Judge Kevin Booth reviewed Scholl's oral opinion from the “clarification hearing.”

The divorce agreement's language said: “The wife shall receive 1/3 of all contingency fees generated from personal injury cases [and] the wife shall receive a 20 percent interest in the fee generated from a recent stipulated settlement in the [workers' compensation case] entitled 'Cote v. Tomasso Construction.'”
Booth noted that Judge Scholl, in 2004, said she found it clear that the phrase “personal injury action” in the divorce decree doesn't mean workers' comp. If it did, School had said, there would have been no need for an exception for the Cote matter.
Judge Booth granted Martin Weiss's motion for summary judgment, on grounds that the issue had been raised and settled before with Scholl. It was therefore “res judicata” – a thing adjudicated.

'Cart Before Horse'?

Last week, Middlebury lawyer Anthony R. Minchella repeated that argument, telling the state Supreme Court that Claudia Weiss had already had her day in trial court. Further, he said, Judge Scholl got it right, and any ambiguity in the divorce agreement should be construed against Claudia Weiss because she drafted it.

Claudia Weiss was represented by West Hartford lawyer Gerald Sack, whose name was invoked when Justice Richard N. Palmer pressed Minchella on why there shouldn't be another hearing on the divorce agreement.
“Shouldn't Mr. Sack have an opportunity to argue the merits?” Palmer asked. “You're saying there's no issue here because we'd win on the merits. Isn't that putting the cart before the horse?”
Sack, meanwhile, argued that Martin Weiss should not be allowed to argue at one time that Scholl's “clarification hearing” was not an appealable final judgment – blocking an appeal – and subsequently contend that it was a final judgment, and that the issue is res judicata.

Some courts, including the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, prohibit a litigant from treating one judicial opinion in opposite ways, under a doctrine known as judicial estoppel. Sack argued that Connecticut should adopt the doctrine and open the way for review of Judge Scholl's decision.
Sack, in an interview, was optimistic that the court would grant his client her long-sought day in court. The record makes it very clear, he said, that his client would never have knowingly left the workers' comp fees “as a gift to her ex-husband.”

Attorney Minchella is equally confident that, even if Claudia Weiss wins a trial level hearing, Martin Weiss will win on the merits. As he told the Supreme Court: “There are only two people in Connecticut who believe Claudia Weiss's idea that workers' comp cases are a kind of personal injury case – Weiss herself, and her lawyer.”

Reprinted with permission, Connecticut Law Tribune, October 26, 2009.



Hartford Courant - Hartford, Conn.
Date: May 10, 2005
(Copyright The Hartford Courant 2005)

A jury on Monday ordered Konover Construction Corp. of Farmington to pay $8.6 million to two Montville construction workers injured in a 1998 trench collapse in Willimantic.
A six-person jury in Superior Court in Middletown deliberated for three days before returning a verdict late Monday afternoon of $5.8 million in damages and interest for Richard Archambault and $2.8 million for Dubie Sowell.

“Both men are happy with the results and just relieved the ordeal is finally over,” said Robert Reardon, Archambault's lawyer. “They have been in pain and out of work for six years. This will bring them some closure.” Konover could not be reached for comment on the verdict late Monday.
Archambault and Sowell were two of three men injured in the collapse of a 6-foot-deep trench for a water line at a local shopping plaza. The third worker, James M. Dowd, escaped with minor back injuries, Reardon said.
Dowd was in the trench when one wall collapsed, police said. Archambault jumped in to help dig his co-worker out, but the other side fell in and buried both men.
Sowell rushed to dig out both men so they could breathe when the soil suddenly shifted, knocking Sowell's head back with such force that it caused swelling of the brain, Reardon said.

During the four-week trial, Archambault told the jury what it felt like to be buried alive. He heard co-workers calling his name and felt them walking above him, but his mouth was filled with dirt and he couldn't respond.
Archambault suffered serious leg injuries that required seven surgeries and years of therapy, Reardon said. He is permanently disabled and unable to return to construction work, he said.
Sowell, who was represented by attorney Gerald Sack of Hartford, suffered a head injury during his rescue. The injury required doctors to place a permanent shunt in his head that is used to drain excess water from his brain, Reardon said.

The workers claimed Konover, the general contractor for the development project, was responsible for the accident because it ordered the men to dig the trench without properly shoring up its sandy walls.
Federal safety regulations require a trench box or gradual sloping on a 6-foot-deep trench to prevent the walls from caving in.
Most of the trench was 4 feet deep. Archambault told the jury he had asked his foreman to allow him to slope the walls or use a trench box as he began digging the 6-foot-deep section. He said the foreman told him that Konover wouldn't allow it, Reardon said.

A co-worker testified that he overheard Archambault express his concern.
Konover's job superintendent and the foreman said they could not remember Archambault requesting a trench box or permission to slope, Reardon said. One Konover employee said Archambault could have moved the water line to a safer area.
The project was already two weeks behind schedule and only partly done when Archambault asked for the safety measures in the trench, Reardon said. He said he was afraid he would lose his job if he refused to follow his foreman's orders.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration later cited the men's employer, Soneco Northeast, for violating the trench safety regulations, but not Konover. Soneco went out of business, but it paid the men's workers' compensation, thus protecting it from a lawsuit.

In 2000, Archambault offered to settle his case against Konover for $750,000, but Konover rejected the offer, Reardon said.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 2001)

Day-care providers throughout Connecticut have been put on notice,

In an unprecedented ruling,that they could be held civilly liable for the death of an infant in their care due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The ruling is an offshoot of the equally unprecedented jury verdict in January ordering Barbara Horne of Bolton to pay $800,000 to the family of 2-month-old Shelby LePage, who died in Horne's care.
Although Horne had been instructed by LePage's mother to permit the baby to sleep only in her car seat or in a swing at Horne's home, Horne placed the baby in a crib and did not reposition her when she saw Shelby had rolled onto her stomach.

Although it sent waves of panic through the day-care provider community, the verdict applied only to Horne. But the ruling issued by Rockville Superior Court Judge Samuel Sferrazza Friday afternoon clearly establishes that all day-care providers with knowledge of the sleeping positions used to minimize the risk of SIDS have a legal obligation to infants in their care to prevent them from sleeping on their stomachs.
The ruling establishes, for the first time in this state, a legal “duty of care” by child-care providers to do everything in their power to prevent a SIDS death on their watch. Sferrazza in the ruling denied a motion by Horne's lawyers to set aside the verdict. Her lawyers contended that she owed no such duty of care to Shelby to reposition her to minimize the likelihood the baby might die of SIDS.

Sferrazza noted there is no other Connecticut case confronting the issue of whether such a legal obligation exists in cases involving SIDS -- the causes of which are still cloaked in mystery.
Although the pathology of SIDS remains unclear, incidence of SIDS have been reduced 42 percent since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 1992 that babies be put to sleep on their backs. In 1994, a highly publicized national campaign began, utilizing the slogan,“Back to Sleep.”

Judy Jacobson, executive vice president of the national Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Alliance, said at the time the verdict was returned against Horne, “This campaign has truly made a difference in keeping probably 2,000 or more babies alive. It's not a guarantee, but it certainly has become a standard of care and it should be followed. If a caregiver is not following the standard of care, they will be subject to litigation. That's the society we live in.”

Shelby died on her second day in Horne's care. Some SIDS researchers have noted that babies accustomed to sleeping only on their backs are particularly vulnerable the first day or two they are in someone else's care and are permitted to sleep on their stomachs.
Because Horne's lawyers did not raise the issue, Sferrazza in his ruling did not analyze whether public policy concerns should enter into consideration of whether day-care providers have a legal obligation to do everything in their power to prevent SIDS death.
Sferrazza based his ruling solely on whether a reasonable person, knowing what Horne knew about the role of sleep positions in SIDS deaths, “would anticipate that SIDS would be a likely consequence of [Horne's] failure to place the infant in, or restore her to, a supine position.”

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.


(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 1997)

In 1992, Art D'Onofrio says, a new propeller was powering him to success.

His East Haddam company, U.S. Propeller Service of Connecticut Inc., had tapped into a lucrative market supplying three-blade propellers to pilots of single-engine aircraft worldwide.

In five years, D'Onofrio said, U.S. Propeller had grown from a business idea on paper to a corporation approaching $4.5 million in annual sales. But within months, D'Onofrio's business went into a tailspin that has traveled through the California courts and landed in Middletown Superior Court.

When jurors begin hearing the case today they will be asked to decide whether D'Onofrio simply owes a large, unpaid bill to Cessna Aircraft, or whether this small company was squashed by one of the giants of the industry.

The case will probably examine how these two companies, once allied, tried to capitalize on emerging technology -- and ended up as opponents in court.
“It's classic David and Goliath,” said D'Onofrio's attorney, Gerald Sack of West Hartford.
Not so, says the attorney for Cessna Aircraft Co.
“We did nothing to interfere with their business relations with the public,” says Richard Warrick, assistant general counsel for Cessna in Wichita, Kan. “Our real interest is in collecting a bill.”

A customer's request in 1988 first prompted D'Onofrio, who also owns New England Propeller Service Inc. of Connecticut, to consider putting three-blade propellers on small aircraft. Not only were the new propellers attractive and quiet, they offered a successor to aging two-blade propellers that had become prone to corrosion and fatigue.

But two blades had long been the standard on single-engine planes; conversion to this new generation of propeller required approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration for each type of plane.
D'Onofrio negotiated what he describes as an informal deal with Cessna: He would purchase 80 Cessna three-blade propellers and test them in hopes of obtaining these FAA approvals. The first FAA certificate, for a Piper Arrow, came in April 1989.

The next year, U.S. Propeller and Cessna agreed to a two-year contract under which D'Onofrio would obtain FAA approvals to put Cessna's three-blade “Blac Mac” on a variety of planes. In turn, he would market propeller conversion kits to an ever-expanding group of small-plane owners.

By 1992, D'Onofrio had secured FAA certificates for almost 90 different models, including those built by Cessna, Piper and Mooney. U.S. Propeller was purchasing 1,000 propellers a year from Cessna and was its single biggest propeller customer.

Then, in July 1992, a sheriff's deputy showed up at the door with a summons naming U.S. Propeller as a co-defendant, along with Cessna, in a California lawsuit brought by a John L. Rich, a former lawyer for the McDonnell Douglas Corp., and Robert Craner, an auto mechanic from Long Beach.

The two men contended Cessna had stolen their idea for the three-bladed propeller and took it to market with U.S. Propeller.
They said they had approached Cessna as early as 1986 with a proposal for a similar business relationship. In court records, D'Onofrio acknowledged that he had learned of Craner and Rich in 1989, but Cessna had told him not to worry.

In March 1994, a jury awarded Craner and Rich $5.4 million in compensatory damages. As the jury was about to consider additional, punitive damages, Cessna and its parent company, Textron, negotiated a private settlement.
Cessna may try to collect part of the settlement from U.S. Propeller in the pending case in Middletown. The company also is trying to collect about $582,000 it contends U.S. Propeller owes for hundreds of Cessna propellers.

Cessna contends it chose not to renew its contract with U.S. Propeller in 1992 because of the unpaid bills, which spelled the end of U.S. Propeller.
U.S. Propeller has filed a counterclaim against Cessna alleging breach of contract, unfair trade practices and fraud. The lawsuit seeks $9.4 million in damages, lost profits and legal fees.

D'Onofrio alleges that Cessna knew, but never told him, that Craner and Rich claimed proprietary ownership of the three- bladed propeller -- even as Cessna entered into a contract with U.S. Propeller.

At the same time, D'Onofrio alleges, Cessna was trying to squeeze U.S.
Propeller out of the industry and market the three- bladed propeller conversion kits on its own.

Cessna representatives have declined to discuss details of the company's relationship with U.S. Propeller, but they say the allegations are unfounded and they have a “firm defense.”

Whatever the result in court, Sack says his client cannot resurrect U.S.
Propeller. The three- bladed propeller industry has changed too much in the past few years.

“That train,” Sack said, “has already left the station.”

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.