A $2.6 million verdict-the largest ever in a wrongful-death case by an Indiana jury-jolted.
Now, a second verdict, this one for $1.25 million in a related case of legal malpractice, has shocked Midwestern lawyers and raised questions about professional-liability coverage.
Both verdicts by federal juries in Hammond went against Frank Galvin, a name partner in a now disbanded Hoosier law firm. His mistakes as defense counsel for a trucking company in the wrongful-death case of motorist Virginia Dickinson, egregious as they were, led to the record verdict and its ugly aftermath: the malpractice lawsuit by his client's insurer.
The Valentine's Day verdict in the malpractice case, tried before Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich, exposed Galvin to potential loss of personal assets-beyond his $1 million coverage. Rodovich ruled as a matter of law that Galvin was negligent. The jury question was whether that neligence contributed to the high verdict in the wrongful-death case. It wasn't close.
Galvin's gaffes included failures to determine the cause of Dickinson's death prior to trial and to preserve an appeal. He also stipulated to the admission of 126 unrelated accidents by his trucking-company client.
Chicago law firms William G. Stone, together with Robert P. Vogt of Bullaro Carton & Stone, representing American International Adjustment Co. in the action against Galvin, criticized the refusal of Galvin's provider, CNA Insurance, to settle for substantially less than the $1 million coverage. It offered $300,000; American International Adjustment had agreed to take $700,000.
CNA's refusal to settle, Stone said, exposed Galvin "unnecessarily" to personal loss. Given the $1 million coverage, minus $250,000 in legal fees, what's left is $500,000 less than the jury's award.
Change of guard: The chief judge of U.S. District Court since 1990, James B. Moran, has let it be known he will take senior status this summer, 11 days after his 65th birthday.
He does so after two personal setbacks: the death of his wife, Nancy, and a mishap that left him with a broken foot and lots of unfinished paperwork. U.S. District Judge Marvin B. Aspen is in line to succeed Moran by virtue of age and length of service.
The departure of Moran, a district judge since 1979, and the elevation of Aspen creates a vacancy that's bound to set off a scramble among judicial wannabes.
Insiders predict Moran's seat will go to Scott R. Lassar, U.S. Atty. James B. Burns' top aide, who was a partner with Burns at Keck Mahin & Cate. Lassar had sought a judicial appointment a couple of years ago, observers said. He became first assistant U.S. attorney on the understanding that Burns, a close associate of U.S. Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, a fellow Democrat, would help him become a judge, observers said.
Lassar is known for his even temperament and legal acumen, as well as a droll wit and not-so-slight penchant for self-deprecation.
Interstate victory: Veteran Chicago defense lawyer Julius Lucius Echeles may be retired in Florida, but he is still winning back in Illinois.
The state appellate court, responding to Echeles' appeal for post-conviction relief in the case of James Files, has reversed Lake County Circuit Judge John Goshgarian and ordered a hearing before another judge on the would-be killer's alibi defense.
Files claims he and a colleague, admitted car thieves, feared they were being chased by mob hitmen when they fired on two plainclothes policemen, wounding one in 1991. Echeles, happy to get the case reinstated and away from Goshgarian, now hopes to get Files' 50-year sentence reduced.