In a civil theft verdict that could hit two attorneys with some $2 million in damages, a Florida jury found late last month that two longtime associates of a well-known Tampa personal injury attorney essentially stripped the owner of their former firm of much of his practice.
The verdict—which was originally higher—was upheld Friday: Richard Mulholland’s former associates, William Winters, 48, and Marc Yonker, 41, asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen to declare a mistrial or set aside the jury’s verdict, recounts the Tampa Tribune. “Nielsen declined to do so but did reduce the jury’s verdict from $1 million to about $575,000. Then, per the law, he tripled those damages to $1.7 million.”
It took seven years for the case to wend its way through the legal system to trial, starting with the two associates’ ambition for a bigger role in the firm and an apparent affair between Winters and a then 29-year-old paralegal, Betsy Chapa, both of whom were married, reports the St. Petersburg Times in a lengthy feature article.
Ordered by Mulholland, who is now 74, to fire her, because it would be harder to replace an associate than a paralegal, Winters did so. But at that point, according to Mulholland’s complaint and the jury’s verdict, his former paralegal and the two associates began copying his high-dollar case files in preparation to form a new law firm, according to the Times.