Florida resident James Grieff, a successful entrepreneur, was not happy with the legal advice he received from lawyer Richard Cahan at Florida law firm Becker & Poliakoff. It all started when Mr. Grieff was facing a court action seeking the return of $2 million dollars payable to the trustee in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme case.
He asked his lawyer for creditor protection advice and was advised to transfer all his assets to his wife, Lana Landis, a pin-up model. Their six-year marriage had seen the birth of one child and he had no reason to believe the marriage was anything but strong and stable.
He took Mr. Cahan’s advice, entered into a binding marriage agreement, and transferred two expensive condominiums, several building lots, significant cash, and his Aston Martin and BMW to her.
Unfortunately for Grieff, his wife filed for divorce three months later, $6 million dollars richer than before.
Assuming that the law firm would represent him in his divorce case, as he had given them a large retainer, he was shocked to learn they would be representing…..you guessed it… his wife!
Even more astounding was that a Miami judge upheld the marriage agreement permitting Ms. Landis to retain all of the assets, even though they were acquired by Grieff before his six-year marriage to her. The Court also granted a divorce.
Mr. Grieff then sued Becker & Poliakoff for gross negligence, conflict of interest, and abandonment.
An interesting twist to Grieff’s case is that the law firm took his retainer funds but also insisted that Ms. Landis sign a retainer agreement.
Believing that lawyer Cahan was representing his best interests and advising him of the best way to protect his assets, as he had promised to do, Grieff agreed to the joint retainer.
Law professor Bob Jarvis of Nova Southeastern University opined:
“We tell our students all the time that you have to be very, very careful when you switch assets to a wife with litigation pending,” he said. “It’s a fraud on the court. It’s a fraud on creditors. This is bad advice from day one.”
He also said:
“We don’t feel sorry for him… We do feel outrage on the wife for trying to turn this to her advantage, and we feel more outrage at the lawyer. If he was truly representing the wife, he should have said you need your own attorney. If these facts prove to be true, now you are no longer looking at just a malpractice suit. We are looking at some discipline from the Florida Supreme Court.”
There is every expectation that the Madoff trustee will attempt to recoup $2 million dollars from Ms. Landis.
As for Mr. Grieff, he is now dead broke and residing with his elderly mother.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang