The A.P reports: OMAHA — The state’s second-largest law firm has been slammed with a $1.6 million judgment for legal malpractice.
“On Monday, a Douglas County jury voted 11 to 1 against McGrath North Mullin & Kratz, ruling that the firm must pay $1.6 million to Richard T. Bellino, a La Vista keno operator.
The jury ruled that attorneys James D. Wegner, William F. Hargens and the firm did not fulfill their duties to properly advise Bellino about how to separate from his business partner before opening another business.
John R. Douglas, an attorney hired to defend the firm, said he will ask the judge to set aside the verdict. If the judge doesn’t, he will appeal.
He said his clients are very good lawyers who did not commit malpractice.
Bellino’s attorney, David Domina of Omaha, said McGrath North should have advised Bellino to make a clean break with a partner before he bid on a keno contract.
Bellino partnered with Robert Anderson in 1989 in La Vista Lottery but later wanted to sever their partnership and open his own business. The attorneys at McGrath North advised him to maintain 50 percent of his share with La Vista Lottery and open the competing La Vista Keno at the same time.
Anderson sued Bellino after La Vista Keno won a contract over La Vista Lottery to provide keno to La Vista.
The suit was based on a 1913 Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that an officer-shareholder “owes a duty of absolute loyalty” to his company and “may not harm it.”
Anderson won the initial ruling in 2003, and Bellino sued his attorneys soon after.
“One of the most elementary purposes for civil law is to get people out of unwanted relationships,” Domina said. “Bellino went to these lawyers with a basic, simple, everyday legal problem: ‘I want out of this business.’
“I had no doubt that (McGrath North) gives high-quality advice every day,” Domina said. “They just didn’t do it in this case.””