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Whistleblower says lawyers botched case, led to his prosecution

Most often when we write about legal malpractice in New Jersey, we discuss complaints that have been filed by people who believe their attorneys bungled their cases causing them to lose a legal battle. In a case that was just filed earlier this week, the complainant actually won a very large settlement in his original case--$104 million--but he still thinks his lawyers botched it.

The original case involved a former UBS AG banker who became a whistleblower by cooperating with the federal government in their investigation of the bank's practice of helping clients evade taxes. Ultimately, UBS was fined $780 million by the government and the whistleblower was also given an award of $104 million. However, he is not satisfied; he believes his lawyers cost him an even larger whistleblower award and that they neglected to take steps to prevent him from being arrested and failed to secure an immunity agreement for him, which resulted in his conviction on fraud charges.

The man says that the law firm told him that it had experience in whistleblower cases, but that it actually did not. Due to this, he claims, the lawyers did not help him submit certain forms to the IRS, resulting in problems to his whistleblower status. He believes that his lawyers could have worked out a better deal with the government in order to help him avoid criminal prosecution on the fraud charges.

The law firm has countered that it believes the man is only filing the legal malpractice suit in retaliation to the firm's attorneys' fees. The firm has tried to collect 12.5 percent of the whistleblower award. A fee dispute is currently pending with an arbitration board.

This case is very complex. Indeed, whistleblowers do have certain protections under federal law and their cases must be handled very carefully to ensure that they will be able to enjoy those protections. It remains unclear whether these lawyers failed to meet the standard of practice for their profession and whether they did fail to understand whistleblower law in this case.

The plaintiff has requested $2 million for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and unlawful trade practices.

Source: legaltimes.typepad.com, "UBS Whistleblower Sues Schertler & Onorato for Malpractice," Nov. 1, 2012

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