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Lawyer sues lawyer after client decamps

A Baltimore-based lawyer is suing a fellow member of the bar for more than $1 million, saying the defendant knowingly and intentionally set out to interfere with one of his client contracts.

Solo practitioner Robert Feinberg alleges Gary Maslan used Maslan, Maslan & Rothwell P.A.’s role as administrator of the estate of Ronald Buchholz Jr. to have Feinberg replaced as the lawyer for Buchholz’s daughters in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The Buchholz family ultimately did replace Feinberg with another firm, which will give a referral fee to Maslan and his firm, the lawsuit alleges.

“All the actions taken by the Defendants in tortiously interfering with the contracts between the Plaintiff and the clients constituted behavior that was intentional, spiteful, hateful, rancorous and spawned out of greed and ill will,” Feinberg’s complaint states.

Feinberg, who has been in practice for almost 32 years, seeks $150,000 in compensatory damages as well as $1 million in punitive damages, according to the complaint filed this week in Baltimore City Circuit Court. He declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit.

Maslan, who has been practicing for more than 39 years, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Buchholz family’s wrongful death case is scheduled for trial in early May in Harford County Circuit Court, according to online court records. The family is now represented by Christos Vasiliades, an associate at Murtha, Psoras & Lanasa LLC in Lutherville, Feinberg alleges.

Vasiliades, identified in Feinberg’s suit as a friend of Maslan, confirmed Wednesday that his firm now represents the Buchholzes.

“We were not aware of Mr. Feinberg’s lawsuit and have no comment on that,” Vasiliades said.

Ronald Buchholz was killed in a car accident May 8, 2012. Four days later, Feinberg met with Buchholz’s daughters, Kara, Kristan and Kori. Kori, a minor, was represented by her mother, Shari Buchholz, who was Ronald’s ex-wife, according to Feinberg’s complaint.

Also attending the meeting was Mitchell R. Peiser, an estate lawyer. Peiser’s office is in the same suite as Feinberg’s, but there is no professional affiliation between them, the lawsuit says.

The family retained Peiser to handle the estate work and retained Feinberg to bring the wrongful death lawsuit, Feinberg alleges.

Feinberg also agreed to help the Buchholzes prepare the paperwork to claim the assets in Ronald Buchholz’s pension and retirement account. Shari Buchholz’s claim to that account was dependent on a Qualified Domestic Relations Order that Ronald Buchholz should have signed as part of the divorce proceeding, according to the complaint.

Maslan’s firm represented Shari Buchholz in her divorce proceedings, and she told Feinberg she suspected the firm may have stopped working on the divorce case because “she was strapped for money at the time,” according to the complaint.

When Feinberg called Maslan to ask about the order, Maslan told him “in no uncertain terms” the wrongful death lawsuit belonged to Maslan’s firm because Shari Buchholz came to the firm’s office following Ronald Buchholz’s death and promised Maslan the case, the complaint states. When Feinberg told Maslan about Feinberg’s retainer agreement, “Maslan specifically replied that ‘we’ll see about that’ and then hung up the phone,” according to the complaint.

Kara and Kristan Buchholz replaced Peiser as administrator of their father’s estate with Maslan’s firm, “for reasons that are not yet clear,” the lawsuit states. (Peiser, a solo practitioner, declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit or his work on the estate.)

When that switch was made, Shari Buchholz asked Feinberg to review Maslan’s retainer agreement to ensure Feinberg was still handling the wrongful death lawsuit for the family.

“[I]t was crystal clear that by way of the pleadings that the Defendants had attempted to indeed have the clients fire the Plaintiff from his employment on the wrongful death cases and survivorship action,” the complaint states.

Feinberg sent Maslan a certified letter at the end of November 2012 asking him to “cease interfering” with the wrongful death case and threatened to file a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission, the complaint states.

Feinberg alleges that he continued to work on the case through last May, during which time Maslan and his firm, “from his position as attorney for the Estate … continued to relentlessly” criticize Feinberg’s work to the Buchholzes.

The family fired Feinberg on May 30 and requested he turn over all of his files and bill to date to Vasiliades.

Feinberg also alleges in the lawsuit he continues to receive bank statements for Ronald Buchholz’s estate and that Maslan’s firm has not obtained his retirement money for Shari Buchholz.