In November of 1998, Virginia based contracts attorney Bruce McLaughlin, was convicted of on eight counts of sexual abuse. The claims of sexual abuse were raised by Mr. McLaughlin’s ex-wife while they were involved in divorce proceedings and a custody battle over their four children. Mr. McLaughlin was sentenced to 13 years in prison. In November 2000, the Virginia Department of Social Services reopened its investigation and determined Mr. McLaughlin’s ex-wife appeared to have fabricated the allegations, and the interviews with the children were flawed.
Mr. McLaughlin hired new counsel, who compared the transcripts of the interviews with the children with the videotapes, something his previous counsel did not do, and discovered the transcripts were incorrect. The transcripts reflected the children gave positive answers to questions of whether they were molested when the interviews showed they did not answer at all. Based upon this, a writ of habeas corpus seeking a new trial was granted. In December 2001, a judge ruled Mr. McLaughlin’s first attorney provided constitutionally inadequate legal assistance.
Mr. McLaughlin was retried in December 2002, and acquitted (Mr. McLaughlin was reinstated to the bar in 2005). Mr. McLaughlin then sued his original law firm, Volzer and Schewe, utilizing the services of the Shevlin Smith law firm. Mr. McLaughlin asserted negligence by Volzer and Schewe caused his conviction. In September 2005, Shevlin Smith advised Mr. McLaughlin to settle with Schewe individually for $50,000, and prepared a release which purported to do that. However, under Virginia law at the time, joint-tortfeasor releases were only applicable to to tort cases, not contract cases, and Volzer was also released as a matter of law. Mr. McLaughlin then sued Shevlin Smith for legal malpractice, and after a trial which lasted nearly a month, was awarded a verdict of $5.75 million dollars in economic damages earlier this year.
As we have noted before, attorneys pursuing legal malpractice cases must be careful not to commit malpractice themselves.