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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Legal Malpractice

The project was a nightmare.  The lawyers failed.  And Morris County taxpayers were left with the bill. 

Back in 2001, The School District of the Chathams approved a $5 million plan to make repairs to its middle school.  APS Contractors was awarded the construction contract.  But when poor workmanship and turnover at the company resulted in significant delays, the District withheld a portion of its payment.  And that prompted APS Contractors to take the District to court. 

The district, which consists of the independent municipalities of Chatham Borough and Chatham Township, hired Attorney Nuris Portuondo of the Morristown-based law firm Schwartz, Simon, Edelstein, Celso & Zitomer to fight the suit.  Instead, the Chathams ended up with another botched job. 

Portuondo reportedly missed significant deadlines, which the District says resulted in their loss to APS Contractors as well as the dismissal of their counterclaim for sub-par workmanship.  The district ended up paying $1.6 million in damages to APS, $250,000 in legal fees and $150,000 in post-judgment interest – all of which it wants back from its former attorney’s firm, according to Sarah Schillaci’s report in The Star-Ledger.  And yes, that’s taxpayer money. 

“That money could have been spent on textbooks and teachers and field trips and fun things for kids,” said the District’s business administrator, Ralph Goodwin. “Instead it was spent on lawyers who didn’t do their jobs.”

The District filed their suit against their attorney for malpractice in Morris County Superior Court earlier this month. 

A quarter of a million dollars is a hefty price to pay for lawyers who didn’t do their job.  Although school funding emphasis has been placed on state aid and local property taxes, we need to realize that attorneys’ fees can impact school budgets, too.

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