Attorneys were not negligent in sale of Hancock County campgrounds, jury finds

Posted June 15, 2012, at 11:51 a.m.
Last modified June 15, 2012, at 4:57 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Jurors found Friday that attorneys at a local law firm were not negligent in late 2004 and early 2005 when they negotiated the sale of three Hancock County campgrounds for the former owner.

The trial in the lawsuit Patty Rae Stanley of Memphis, Tenn., filed against Bangor attorneys Daniel G. McKay and Sarah S. Zmistowski and Eaton Peabody, the law firm for which they work, began June 6 in U.S. District Court.

The jury of two men and six women deliberated for about 2½ hours before announcing the verdict about 2:15 p.m.

The former owner of Mount Desert Narrows Campground in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Narrows Too Campground in Trenton and Patten Pond Campgrounds in Ellsworth sued her former attorneys and the law firm in August 2010. The lawsuit was filed in federal court because Stanley lives out of state and was seeking more than $75,000 in damages.

“Eaton Peabody is pleased with the jury verdict and their ability to navigate through a two-week trial to reach a just result,” Bernard J. Kubetz, in-house counsel for the firm, said in an email. “For over 60 years, our law firm has worked hard to develop a reputation based on integrity, trust and quality work for our clients. We value each and every one our clients and the confidence they place in us.

“Sarah Zmistowski and Dan McKay are excellent and careful attorneys,” he continued. “They worked hard to help Patricia Stanley consummate the business deal she negotiated to sell her Hancock County campgrounds back in 2005. It is unfortunate that she ultimately failed to accept responsibility for the business decisions she made.”

Stanley’s attorney, Michael Waxman, quickly exited the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building, where the federal court is located, with his client and members of her family.

“We’re disappointed in the result and a little stunned,” he said. “But we respect the jury’s verdict.”

Stanley claimed her properties were worth at least $14.5 million, more than twice what she received for them. Her former attorneys have said in court documents that the campgrounds were worth the $6.75 million Stanley was paid for them.

The 70-year-old widow was seeking a total of $7.75 million in damages — a total arrived at by subtracting the $6.75 million she was paid from the value Stanley placed on the property, her attorney, Michael Waxman of Portland, told the jury in closing arguments Friday.

Stanley claimed that her lawyers did not follow professional standards in drawing up her sale agreement with Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. of Chicago or protect her interests.

“This case is about three things — trust, betrayal of trust and a major misunderstanding,” Waxman said in his closing argument. “ELS, a gorilla in the market, came in and stripped her of more than half the value of her campgrounds and the attorneys she hired and trusted failed to explain the deal to her. If they had just spent the time necessary to explain the deal to her, we wouldn’t be here.”

The attorneys claimed that they and the firm properly represented Stanley and that she understood the provisions of the sale.

In his closing argument, Portland lawyer Peter Rubin, the attorney for the defendants, pointed to 11 documents and emails that had been introduced as evidence that prove Stanley understood and approved the deal. He told jurors that Stanley knew she would stay on to manage the campgrounds but would get no money several years down the road unless business was better than it had been the summer of 2004. Business did not improve in the summers of 2005, 2006 or 2007 because of bad weather and rising gas prices.

“She needs to accept her own personal responsibility here,” Rubin said. “She took a business risk and it didn’t work out. The evidence clearly shows that Ms. Stanley knew from the beginning the terms of the deal.”

Editor’s Note: Attorneys with Eaton Peabody represent the Bangor Daily News.

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