"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

                                                                                            from William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride (1697)

Fritzi Benesch, 86 year old multimillionaire and former owner of the clothing company, Fritzi California, is suing her lawyer for malpractice.  The case, brought in 2000 went to trial the week of October 27, 2008.  See ABA Journal report here.

Her lawyer, now retired trust and estates lawyer William Hoisington, of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe did estate planning for the Benesch family for 20+ years.  Fritzi and her husband Ernst started working with Orrick in 1977.

In 1981 daughter Valli (and later, her husband Robert Tandler) also retained the Orrick firm for advice on their own estate, corporate and tax matters, and for the family business.   Fritzi, the plaintiff in this action, now alleges that the Orrick firm did not inform her of the representation of her prospective heirs, nor was the potential conflict of interest inherent in that representation ever explained to her, nor was she ever asked to consent to that representation or to waive the conflict.

In the summer of 1999, 16 years after she had passed control of the family business to her older daughter, Valli and Valli’s husband Robert Tandler,  In that same year Fritzi discovered that her husband had had an affair and Fritzi filed for divorce.  The attorney for the defense says that Fritzi Benesch’s discovery of her husband’s infidelity sparked her desire to undo decades of estate planning and stock transactions.

Plaintiff’s attorney argues that Fritzi’s attorney had a conflict of interest.  "What this case is about is a law firm favoring one set of clients over another," he said. "They were getting richer as my client was getting lesser."  (Isn’t that what we do all the time in estate planning? Don’t’ we usually call that good planning?)

Here is brief submitted to San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Fritzi Benesch, Plaintiff and Appellant.

Here is Juan Antunez’s blog post discussing the ethics issue.

What do you think?