Wolf Block Settles Legal Malpractice Case Over Prenup
The legal malpractice trial between businessman Alan Potamkin and Wolf Block didn't go off as scheduled Monday in the wake of a settlement the parties finalized earlier this month.
Potamkin had sued defunct Wolf Block and several of its partners after the prenuptial agreement he signed in 1983 with his ex-wife didn't protect his assets as he had desired when the two divorced under Florida law a few years ago.
Potamkin's attorney, Joseph Podraza of Sprague & Sprague, said the terms of the settlement were confidential. He said it was reached in November after a second round of mediation with Thomas B. Rutter of ADR Options and finalized earlier this month.
Nicholas Centrella of Conrad O'Brien represented Wolf Block and said only that the case would not be moving forward.
The trial had been pushed back at least once and was scheduled for jury selection before Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark I. Bernstein on Monday. The case, which was filed via a writ of summons in March 2010, had made its way to the appellate courts when a dispute arose over the amount of discovery Wolf Block had to produce about its family law practice and experience with prenuptial agreements.
The settlement comes before the Pennsylvania Superior Court had a chance to rule on arguments it heard in 2012 as to whether Wolf Block had to disclose letters between its attorneys and its insurer about the merits of Potamkin's claims.
Along with the attorney-client privilege issue regarding the insurance letters, Wolf Block also appealed the trial court's ruling that the law firm had to turn over 30 years' worth of prenuptial agreements it drafted for other clients along with years' worth of data on its family law work. As part of those discovery requests, Potamkin asked for copies of the prenuptial agreements for other clients with the names redacted.
Wolf Block argued that would require the firm to turn over privileged, private client information. It would also require the firm to go through tens of thousands of boxes to look through 30 years' worth of data. The trial court ordered those documents turned over.
The appeals to the Superior Court were withdrawn by Wolf Block on Dec. 12.
Potamkin argued in his lawsuit that the prenuptial agreement didn't take into account any potential future changes in Florida law or necessary waivers that should have been included, according to the complaint. The agreement was drafted before Florida adopted an equitable distribution law.
While the divorce case has since been settled, Podraza said at the 2012 oral argument before the Pennsylvania Superior Court that Potamkin's potential damages against Wolf Block are somewhere between $30 million and $85 million.
The validity of the 1983 prenuptial agreement had been brought into question by the Florida court handling the divorce action. Potamkin entered a tolling agreement with Wolf Block to toll the statute of limitations for malpractice while his attorneys as well as lawyers for Wolf Block attempted to enforce the prenuptial agreement. When the Florida judge denied summary judgment on the issue and ruled discovery of assets should continue, Potamkin filed the complaint in the malpractice case in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Potamkin and his family had hired Wolf Block for business, financial and personal matters starting in the early 1970s. Potamkin hired the firm in 1983 to write up a prenuptial agreement in advance of his Oct. 1, 1983, marriage to Claudia Forman. David R. Glyn, then a Wolf Block partner under the supervision of then-partner David J. Kaufman, was assigned to draft the agreement under Florida law, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, the agreement was supposed to establish a formula for what Potamkin would have to pay Forman if they divorced or separated. The attorneys, Potamkin said in the complaint, were supposed to "make the prenuptial agreement iron clad so that no judge could later interpret it to impose greater or lesser financial obligations on Alan Potamkin" in the event of a divorce.
But, in January 2007, a month after Potamkin and Forman decided to divorce, Forman informed Potamkin that her lawyers didn't think the prenuptial agreement limited his financial obligations as envisioned by the agreement, according to the complaint. In denying summary judgment, the Florida court had ruled the prenuptial agreement did not conclusively establish that either party waived equitable distribution of the assets.