Lawsuit alleges Casagrande legal malpractice

An insurance company is suing a Monmouth County law firm for malpractice, alleging that the firm used their political connections to get the case and that their lawyer, freshman Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, didn’t know what she was doing.

The original suit involved a woman, Carol Carpenter, who was “riding in a county medical transportation bus to a dialysis session when she fell out of her wheelchair and broke her right leg. Doctors amputated the leg two weeks later.” When she sued the county the case was assigned to Cleary, Alfieri & Jones, a politically active firm with strong ties to the Monmouth GOP.

The complaint filed by North River Insurance Co. says that “none of the attorneys who handled the case were in the least familiar with the duties of defense counsel, or even the rudiments of litigation practice” and that Casagrande, an associate who had one year of experience at the time, “should have received close supervision, but didn’t, and her memos showed she wasn’t well versed in the facts… A look at her analysis of the damages issue also reveals that she had totally missed the point.”

“The Cleary firm was eligible for this appointment by virtue of its political activities rather than by virtue of its qualifications as an insurance defense firm,” the complaint notes. “It required skillful defense counsel rather than political appointees.” James Cleary, a partner at the firm, has served as assistant county counsel and counsel to the Western Monmouth Utilities Authority.

Carpenter was represented by Ansell, Zaro, Grimm & Aaron, also a politically influential firm. Gov. Jon Corzine recently named one partner, Jerry Zaro, as his top economic advisor. Cleary, Alfieri & Jones is being represented in the malpractice case by Sterns Weinroth, which has a large lobbying practice and considerable political connections.

Casagrande, a Republican who was elected to the Assembly in 2007, is no longer with the Cleary firm. Superior Court Judge Hunt Dumont (a former U.S. Attorney whose father, Wayne Dumont, served in the State Senate and was the 1965 GOP candidate for Governor) is scheduled to hear a motion on the case tomorrow in Morristown.

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Lawsuit alleges Casagrande legal malpractice