Malpractice Suit's Late Filing Spares Lawyer Liability for 'Dubious' Advice
"Possessed of this disquieting advice, Venturi did nothing, waiting while the trigger to the taxation time bomb remained in the hands of Giovambattista Venturi," the panel continued, adding that Venturi's "repose was unwarranted."
Ouda, a Somerville solo, says Venturi "was just too trusting."
O'Donnell "should've been much more cogent in telling her that her interpretation" of the settlement did not conform with the written version, Ouda says.
"What she actually did — which was to do nothing — seemed to be based on his advice to sit tight," Ouda adds. "It just didn't make sense to me that she would do nothing."
O'Donnell, now with Newsome O'Donnell in Florham Park, did not return a call. Neither did his lawyer, Marshall Bilder of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott in Trenton.
O'Donnell — a certified matrimonial attorney, ICLE instructor, State Bar Family Law Section executive committee member since 1995 and Essex County Bar president in 2008-09 — has avoided liability in at least two other malpractice actions.
In a 2008 decision, Burke v. Skoloff & Wolfe, an appeals court rejected claims by an ex-client who sought to recover attorney fees incurred when a divorce settlement O'Donnell crafted was challenged on appeal and had to be modified on remand. The difficulties the client encountered "would appear to stem from [her] stubbornness and intractability," the court said.
In January 2012, another appeals panel upheld dismissal of a malpractice case against O'Donnell in Goodwin v. Donahue, Hagan, Klein, Newsome & O'Donnell. The ex-client sued because O'Donnell, on the eve of trial, recommended arbitration, which wound up being more expensive and time-consuming. Lawyers can't be held liable for giving reasonable advice, the court said. The plaintiff in Goodwin, like Venturi, was represented by Ouda. •