Saying a Waukesha law firm concealed vital information and documents during a bitter four-year battle over the Derzon Coin fortune, the heirs to the estate this week sued Cramer Multhauf & Hammes for more than $7 million plus at least $1 million in legal fees.
“We feel there was negligence on the part of the attorneys that cost the estate a fortune,” said Kevin Demet, attorney for the beneficiaries of the estate of Rebecca Derzon, who died in August 2008 at age 59. She was the second wife of David Derzon, the deceased founder of the lucrative West Allis coin shop.
The beneficiaries earlier filed an action against Lori Laatsch, Rebecca Derzon’s half sister who initially inherited a controlling interest in the Derzon Coin business, only to be stripped of the inheritance last August. Laatsch is appealing that order.
Demet said the estate heirs are seeking to collect $2.4 million, the bulk of which represents payments made to Laatsch and Diane Mehalko during the time they owned the West Allis business. Mehalko is a Laatsch friend and longtime store employee who received 25% of the business through the now-voided will. The heirs are asking the court to triple the damages because the money was improperly pocketed, the suit alleges.
Rebecca Derzon’s death from an overdose of prescription drugs sparked the vicious court fight during which Milwaukee County Judge Jane Carroll last year reinstated the Rebecca Derzon will that gave 60% of the estate, including the business, to David Derzon’s two adult sons from a previous marriage. The remainder of the estate went to Paul Johnson, the half brother of Rebecca Derzon.
The will that was voided was signed by Rebecca Derzon just five months before her death, a time when she was depressed over the death of her 83-year-old husband and was abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. Carroll ruled that Laatsch improperly pressured Rebecca Derzon into signing the new will that was prepared by the Cramer law firm and had the word “draft” stamped on it.
Patrick Lubenow, attorney for the Cramer law firm, said the firm’s lawyers acted properly throughout the estate fight.
Cramer is a prominent 40-year-old Waukesha law firm representing some of the county’s best-known businesses, including Waukesha State Bank, Jack Safro’s Automotive Group and Cousin’s Submarines Inc.
“It’s been a travesty the way the media has portrayed the Cramer Multhauf firm” Lubenow said. “We look forward to proving the falsity of the claims.”
Cramer lawyers have consistently declined to comment when stories in the Journal Sentinel mentioned the firm or criticisms of it. Lubenow said legal ethics required the firm to be reticent.
Among the critics of the firm was Carroll, who chastised Cramer lawyers in court.
“Documents were altered or destroyed for the purpose of hiding information from the Derzon sons,” Carroll wrote last August when she voided the will. The actions showed that “Lori Laatsch and her attorneys had something to hide; their motives are suspect.”
Lubenow said Wednesday that “we’ll be able to show that’s not true.”
Derzon Coin heirs sue Waukesha law firm
February 20, 2013
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel