A federal district judge in Washington appointed a guardian ad litem yesterday to represent the interests of a Maryland architect who has battled her own lawyer for seven years in a copyright suit against a rival architectural firm and the United Arab Emirates.
Elena Sturdza’s suit, filed in 1998 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has stalled since 2002 when her lawyer, Nathan Lewin, called into question his client’s competency to make rational decisions regarding her case. Lewin moved then for an appointment of a guardian, and U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. granted the request.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this year reversed Kennedy, saying Sturdza had not been given ample notice about the proceedings. The appeals court said Sturdza should be given a shot to be heard on Lewin’s motion. That hearing was held earlier this month, at which time there was little doubt that Kennedy would re-appoint a guardian for Sturdza.
“Having provided Sturdza notice and an opportunity to be heard, this court again concludes that the motion for appointment of a guardian ad litem should be granted,” Kennedy wrote in an order published May 28. Click here for a copy of the order. Kennedy earlier this month also ordered Sturdza to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
When Kennedy first appointed a guardian, the judge noted Sturdza's behavior before him and her pro se filings as compelling reasons why a guardian should represent the plaintiff. Sturdza is "prone to paranoid outbursts and has expressed irrational hostility" toward Lewin, Kennedy wrote in an order.
Sturdza said she has no intention of undergoing an evaluation and she said there is no need for a guardian ad litem. A copy of Sturdza's motion arguing against the appointment of a guardian is here.
Lewin, meanwhile, told The National Law Journal earlier this month that he has no interest in remaining Sturdza’s attorney but he is unwilling to remove himself and let Sturdza proceed pro se. Lewin filed this response to Sturdza's claims earlier this month.
Sturdza would lose the case if she were allowed to go alone in the litigation, Lewin said. Lewin does, however, have a financial interest in the case—Sturdza hired Lewin on a contingent fee basis. If a guardian ad litem determines another lawyer should represent Sturdza, then Lewin said he would not challenge that decision. Kennedy's order did not name of the guardian who will represent Sturdza.
Sturdza’s suit claims the architectural firm Angelos Demetriou & Associates and the UAE ripped off her winning contest design for the UAE embassy in Washington, D.C. Sturdza is seeking millions in damages. A district judge ruled against Sturdza, but Lewin, hired for the appeal, won a favorable ruling in the D.C. Circuit that revived the case.