Author Cornwell takes stand at negligence trial
Author Patricia Cornwell leaves federal court in Boston, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, after she took the stand in her lawsuit against her former financial management company. Cornwell claims that the firm and a former executive cost her millions of dollars in losses or unaccounted revenue during their four-year relationship. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
BOSTON (AP) -- A federal jury awarded crime writer Patricia Cornwell nearly $51 million Tuesday in her lawsuit against her former financial management company and a former principal in the firm.
The author best known for her series of novels featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta claimed that Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP was negligent in handling her finances and cost her millions in losses or unaccounted for revenue.
Lawyers for the New York firm and former principal Evan Snapper said there was no money missing from Cornwell's accounts. They blamed losses on the economic downturn and what they called Cornwell's extravagant lifestyle, which included Ferraris, helicopters and a temporary apartment in New York City she rented for $40,000 per month.
Cornwell, 56, testified that Anchin moved her from a conservative management strategy to an aggressive one without her permission. She said she fired the firm in 2009 after discovering that her net worth was a little under $13 million, despite having eight-figure earnings in each of the previous four years.
Cornwell said the firm caused her to miss a book deadline for the first time in her career when it failed to find her a suitable place to write after renovation work on her house in Concord went on much longer than expected.
"This was very destabilizing. I really lost my ability to focus and concentrate. I did not know what the book was about anymore," Cornwell said.
The lawsuit said the missed deadline caused Cornwell to lose one year's income: about $15 million in non-recoverable advances and commission.
Cornwell's relationship with Anchin began in 2004. Cornwell said Anchin agreed to manage all her money and the assets of her company, Cornwell Entertainment Inc.
The lawsuit alleged negligence and breach of contract.
Cornwell said she was thrilled with the verdict.
"God bless justice," she said. "It's a huge relief and it's been a huge ordeal." She also thanked the jury for "giving up seven weeks of their lives."
Lawyers for the firm and Snapper portrayed Cornwell as a demanding client who relied on them for everything from bringing her clothes to the tailor to arranging care for her mother.
"I'm very disappointed," Snapper said after the verdict was announced.
On the stand, he strongly denied Cornwell's allegations.
"I did not steal any money from anyone," he said. "The money was there."
Frank Schettino, a managing partner at Anchin, Block & Anchin, said the firm plans to explore its legal options, including appealing the verdict.
"For more than 90 years, the professionals at Anchin have built a reputation for honesty and integrity," Schettino said in a statement. "The firm will endure despite today's outcome."
Snapper pleaded guilty in 2011 to lying about the source of 21 contributions of $2,300 each to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Snapper acknowledged that he knew that the contributors did not make the donations in 2008, but instead they were reimbursed from an account belonging to Cornwell. He admitted the reimbursements caused Clinton's presidential committee unwittingly to file false reports with the Federal Election Commission identifying the 21 donors as the contributors.
Cornwell has lived in the Boston area for the last six years. She is married to Staci Gruber, a neuroscientist and assistant psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School. The lawsuit alleged that Anchin also mishandled Gruber's finances.