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Blog Book Chronicles $33M Verdict

When Jane Daniel learned that she had breast cancer, it was not the worst thing ever to have happened to her. That honor, she writes, fell to a Massachusetts jury's decision to award damages against her and her fledgling publishing company of $11 million, which the judge trebled to $33 million. It was one of the largest damage awards ever in the state, comparable, Daniel notes, to the award against O.J. Simpson in the California wrongful death lawsuit brought by the families of Nichole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Here, however, there was no death or physical harm -- the lawsuit resulted from a contract dispute between a first-time author, her ghostwriter and their small publisher. It is the story, Daniel writes, "of the legal system run amok. It's about conduct incompetent at best and unethical at worst. But most of all it is a tale of betrayals of basic sanity on many levels of the judicial system that is entrusted with meting out justice in legal disputes."

Now Daniel is telling her story through a blog, BESTSELLER!, that she describes as "more than a blog, it's a real book being written in real time." Daniel lives just a town away from me, although I have never met her. In 1995, through her company Mt. Ivy Press, she contracted with Misha Defonseca and ghostwriter Vera Lee to publish Defonseca's memoir about surviving the Holocaust on her own as a young girl, in part through her "adoption" by a pack of wolves. The resulting book, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, became a bestseller in Europe and attracted the interest of movie companies, but never sold well in the United States.

Disputes over copyright and authorship eventually led ghostwriter Lee to sue Daniel and her company in Superior Court in Boston. Other claims and cross claims were filed involving Defonseca and the literary agency affiliated with the former Boston law firm Palmer & Dodge. The jury returned an advisory verdict in favor of Lee and Defonseca, which the trial judge then trebled, finding Daniel and Mt. Ivy jointly and severally liable for $9.9 million to Lee and $22.5 million to Defonseca. In 2005, the state Appeals Court affirmed the verdict.

For Daniel, the verdict was beyond her comprehension. "I felt like the victim of a horrible automobile accident -- dazed, frightened, in shock, in pain, injured in ways I didn't yet comprehend." She writes:

"To slip too deeply into the machinations of civil litigation is to become a gnat ensnared in a web; once the process begins it may be impossible to escape. As the struggle runs its course, the pitfalls of human fallibility and institutional vagary are unforeseeable and uncontrollable. For that reason, no matter how just the merits or heroic the effort, the outcome will always be a crap-shoot."

No doubt, there are a number of sides to this story. The Appeals Court decision makes that clear. But in the eight chapters Daniels has posted so far, she provides an intriguing perspective on the litigation system as nonlawyers see it. While the story will most certainly reach an end, Daniel writes, she does not yet know what it will be.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 12, 2007 at 05:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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