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Crime Writer Patricia Cornwell Wins $51 Million in Legal Suit

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Fiction crime-writer Patricia Cornwell was awarded $50.9 million by a jury on Tuesday after she claimed her former financial management firm cost her tens of millions of dollars in lost money over four years.

Cornwell, 56, is accustomed to writing about a heroic medical examiner investigating complex mysteries, but she was in the middle of a drama of her own.

In October 2009, she filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts against her former accounting firm and business manager, Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, and its former principal, Evan Snapper.  The trial began on Jan. 7 and the jury began deliberating on Feb. 14.

She sued for negligent performance of professional services, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, equitable forfeiture and other actions.

Cornwell has written 20 books in a series about the fictional Dr. Kay Scarpetta.  The first book, Postmortem, was published in 1990, and her most recent, The Bone Bed, was published last year.

Cornwell first used the accounting firm of Yohalem Gillman & Company from the mid-1990s until it merged with Anchin in 2005.  She said Anchin eventually became her full-service concierge business manager, with Snapper holding a "power of attorney" for Cornwell by December 2004.

Through a statement issued on Tuesday, Frank Schettino, managing partner at Anchin said he is "disappointed" with the case's outcome and will explore the firm's legal options, including appealing the verdict.

"For more than 90 years, the professionals at Anchin have built a reputation for honesty and integrity.  The firm will endure despite today's outcome," Schettino said.  "We are eager to return to our business and continue providing the highest level of professional services our loyal clients have come to expect."

Cornwell alleged she was charged far more than the $40,000-a-month rate she thought she would be paying the company for management of her money and the assets of her company, Cornwell Entertainment Inc., as first reported by the Globe.

"Ms. Cornwell is a best-selling crime novelist whose ability to write is dependent upon the ability to avoid distractions," her complaint stated.  "A quiet, uninterrupted environment, free of the distractions of managing her business and her assets, including her investments, is essential to her ability to write and to meet her deadlines."

Her lawsuit also said that she "openly acknowledges her diagnosis with a mood disorder known as bipolar disorder, which, although controlled without medication, has contributed to her belief that it is prudent for her to employ others to manage her business affairs and her investments."

She said she learned the extent of her investment losses in 2009, alleging Anchin selected investments without input from her or her partner.

"Notwithstanding eight figure earnings per year during that period, CEI and Ms. Cornwell learned that their net worth, while substantial, was the equivalent of only approximately one year's net income," the suit says.

She also learned Anchin "had borrowed on their behalf collectively several million dollars, comprised of mortgages for real property and a loan for the purchase of a helicopter," the suit claimed.

Snapper admitted to violating campaign finance laws by using her money to buy $50,000 in tickets to an Elton John concert benefiting Hillary Clinton.  He also pled guilty to campaign finance violations and paid a fine.

An attorney for Anchin told the court last month that Cornwell was aware of what was happening, including the ticket purchase.  Anchin also maintained that the $40,000 monthly payment was determined as a retainer, while the company billed by the hour.

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