Attorneys for Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz butted heads today with counsel for Stiglitz’s former divorce attorney, Washington matrimonial law heavyweight Rita Bank, over damages in Stiglitz’s legal malpractice suit against Bank.
The trial is set to begin later this month, but attorneys are still arguing over the degree to which Stiglitz and other witnesses can testify about the amount of money Stiglitz believes he lost out on in the divorce because Bank allegedly gave him bad legal counsel.
The complaint (PDF) originally listed a $5 million demand, but U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said today that he was inclined to limit damages testimony to closer to $1 million worth of claims related to legal costs.
Stiglitz had claimed damages based in part on purported differences between what he ended up paying in his divorce settlement and what he believes he could have paid had the settlement been resolved earlier and in Washington, as opposed to New York, where the proceedings ended up taking place.
An economics professor at Columbia University and the recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001, Stiglitz had previously argued that given his math-heavy professional background, he should be allowed to serve as his own damages expert.
Leon wouldn’t allow that, but Stiglitz’s attorneys have since argued that their client should still be allowed to testify about the calculated value of assets that were part of the final settlement with his ex-wife. His attorneys then planned to show how a settlement in Washington would have cost Stiglitz less money.
Stiglitz is being represented by David Whitworth of Whitworth Smith in Crofton, Md. Another Crofton-based solo practitioner, Wes Henderson, also argued today on Stiglitz’ behalf. Whitworth has declined to comment on the case.
Bank’s attorneys have argued that this strategy is a means of circumventing Leon’s previous ruling barring Stiglitz from serving as a damages expert. They filed a motion asking Leon to affirm previous orders limiting the scope of Stiglitz’s testimony as it relates to those damages claims.
Bank is being represented by Richard Simpson of Wiley Rein in Washington. Fellow Wiley Rein attorney Mary Borja also argued today.
Leon didn’t rule today, but said he was “inclined” to agree with Bank’s attorneys and limit damages claims to the amount of excess fees Stiglitz claims he had to pay as a result of his alleged problems with Bank's representation. The judge said that he would not allow any “crystal ball” testimony on what the hypothetical outcome of Stiglitz’s divorce case would have been had it proceeded in Washington.
Stiglitz and Bank were not in court today. The trial was scheduled to begin on June 21, but Leon is pushing the date to later in the month in light of a sprawling Foreign Corrupt Practices Act trial he has presided over since mid-May.