Two lawyers accused of malpractice

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NEWFANE — Two local lawyers are being sued by a Connecticut developer for legal malpractice regarding five real estate contracts related to the Hermitage Club.

Frank J. Cotrona Jr., manager of Cameo Builders LLC and Lizandra LLC filed a complaint against Bob Fisher, of Fisher & Fisher Law Offices, attorney Lance Shader, Hermitage founder Jim Barnes, the Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Co. LLCs and the Hermitage Club LLC. Charges include legal malpractice, breach of contract and intentional interference.

Cotrona and Lizandra are demanding a jury trial. They say the negligence and gross misconduct of Barnes, Fisher and Shader "wreaked havoc" on their business operations and goodwill.

While Cotrona, Barnes and the Hermitage LLCs are based in Connecticut, the other parties are located in Vermont and the real estate in question is in Wilmington. Cotrona also owns Scalia's Pizza in Wilmington. He worked with Lizandra to develop real estate projects "involving custom, high-quality residential properties" near the Hermitage's private ski resort at Haystack Mountain, according to the complaint.

"Unfortunately, the Hermitage Club has now been the subject of widespread publicity due to its scandal-ridden financial collapse, and due to litigation over misconduct by Barnes' and the financial failure," wrote John Stasny, of Woolmington, Campbell, Bent and Stasny in Manchester Center.

A purchase and sale contract in March 2014 negotiated between Barnes and Cotrona saw Fisher serving as counsel for both parties in the transaction, according to the complaint.

"This created a conflict of interest for Fisher between clients on both sides of the transaction," Stasny wrote, adding that Fisher had wanted both parties to sign a document waiving any conflict of interest. "In any event, Cotrona was not a himself a party to the waiver, did not give informed consent for Fisher to proceed in spite of the conflict, and could not have given informed consent because he was never adequately informed."

Cotrona alleges money was wired to the Hermitage for the property more than four years ago but he never received the deed. Stasny said Barnes "fabricated a multitude of excuses for the delay in conveying the property all while concealing the failing financial condition" of the Hermitage companies, and Fisher must have known about the "real issues inherent in the delays but failed to provide competent representation to Cotrona's interests" in the contract.

Cotrona is seeking restitution fees from the Hermitage. It is believed the Hermitage made about $100,000 from the sale.

Cotrona and Lizandra developed other properties near Haystack including parcels in Powderhorn Village, according to the complaint. A mortgage for a Powderhorn building from Stormfield Capital Funding LLC is the subject of a separate foreclosure action.

Stormfield alleges errors were made in property descriptions written in the mortgage. Cotrona and Lizandra are accusing Shader, their attorney in this transaction, of "negligence."

Two other real estate transactions this year and last year at Powderhorn "involved legal malpractice by Fisher and Shader," Stasny wrote.

Fisher represented Lizandra and Shader represented the buyers in each sale, according to the complaint. The two lawyers are alleged to not have referenced existing mortgages before deeds were conveyed.

Cotrona claims he had written to Fisher and Shader to call attention to the issue. But "neither attorney addressed the mortgages in the closing of the transactions," Stasny wrote. "Worst still, this does not appear to be an isolated incident — it now appears that these are not the only real estate transactions in the area around the Hermitage Club, involving at least Fisher, in which property has been conveyed without the release of prior encumbrances against the property."

A customized townhouse Lizandra agreed to build near Haystack last year for $725,000 resulted in a family demanding cancellation of the contract. The family believed Lizandra had unduly delayed closing on the property and had not been following state law by not holding the contract deposit properly, according to the complaint, which blames Fisher's conduct for causing the failure of the sale and "significant loss" for Lizandra.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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