Family Law

Appeals court says law firm owes $792K to dad in child-kidnap case, but nixes $424K award to girl


An appeals court has upheld a jury award of $700,000, plus $292,332 in interest and attorney’s fees, won against a New Jersey law firm in 2011 by the father of a girl abducted during a bitter custody battle with the child’s mother.

However, the Appellate Division reversed an additional $424,000 awarded against Lesnevich & Marzano-Lesnevich on behalf of the daughter of Peter Innes, who was taken to Spain nine years ago at the age of 4. The court found that proof of injury was lacking because the girl is unavailable as a witness, reports the Record.

“Innes’s testimony was sufficient to permit the jury to award him emotional distress damages proximately caused by defendants’ breach of their duty,” the appeals court said in its Monday written opinion (PDF) in the Bergen County case. “The loss in this case was particularly personal in nature—the inability of a father to see his daughter for many years, and the likely prospect that he may never see her again.”

But the court said the jury award on behalf of the girl had to be reversed, because it was “based on speculation” about her emotional distress.

The girl’s mother, Maria Jose Carrascosa, is a native of Spain and was an attorney admitted to practice in the European Union. She was arrested for contempt when she returned to the U.S. in 2006, convicted of criminal interference with child custody and is now in her eighth year of a 14-year prison term. The girl is reportedly being raised by her grandparents.

A 2004 parenting agreement in New Jersey required the consent of both Innes and Carrascosa to send their daughter on any international trip. As part of the agreement, the girl’s passport was held by the mother’s attorney. When Carrascosa switched attorneys in December of that year, her new lawyer at Lesnevich & Marzano-Lesnevich turned over the child’s passport, not realizing that she was supposed to hold it in trust. A month later, the 4-year-old girl was headed to Spain with her maternal grandfather. Innes has not seen his daughter since then, the Record article recounts.

“I am very happy the appellate court agreed that these lawyers had no right to surrender my daughter’s passport and that their actions were a violation of their professional rules of conduct,” Innes told the newspaper on Tuesday. He said he was disappointed by the reversal of the $424,000 award on his daughter’s behalf, and intends to use any money he collects to fight for her custody in the Spanish court system.

Partner Walter A. Lesnevich says the Hackensack law firm intends to appeal the award to the state supreme court.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Nearly $1M Awarded to Dad Who Sued Ex-Wife’s Law Firm for Role in Child Abduction”

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