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Legal Ethics

Fallout from claimed sunken treasure discovery dogs law firm

Posted Mar 17, 2014 9:02 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A law firm that represented two divers who claimed to have found emeralds from a sunken ship is now facing a request for sanctions because of its actions in the contingency case.

Partner Bruce Silverstein and Wilmington law firm Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor are facing the sanctions request, the Delaware News Journal reports. They represented JTR Enterprises, a company formed by divers Jay Miscovich and Steve Elchlepp. Miscovich had claimed he found thousands of emeralds while diving with Elchlepp in the Gulf of Mexico using a treasure map purchased from an acquaintance at a bar.

The law firm had a right to a percentage of the emeralds and anything else discovered by Miscovich, according to court documents cited by the newspaper. Silverstein and another investor became a part owner of JTR after advancing money to Miscovich and Elchlepp, Silverstein testified.

Seeking payment of legal fees from the lawyers is Motivation Inc., a treasure-hunting company that filed a claim to the emeralds in the belief that they were treasures from two sunken ships to which it had rights. After Motivation filed its claim, lab tests showed that some of Miscovich’s emeralds were covered with modern epoxy. That meant they were a modern find, which diminished their value, the story says.

The problems for JTR multiplied after Miscovich killed himself in October and a jewelry store owner testified in January he sold Miscovich 80 pounds of rough Colombian emeralds before the purported underwater find, the story reports. Motivation Inc. now argues that Silverstein and his firm dragged out the litigation.

"Silverstein actually triggered substantial motions practice in an effort to get Motivation's claims dismissed before its expert could examine the emeralds and see that they were treated with modern epoxy and Krazy Glued," Motivation claims in a motion filed in February. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore is considering the sanctions request.

Silverstein said in 2012 affidavits that Motivation is “on a witch hunt” and its assertions are “baseless, reckless and defamatory.” He did not respond to a request for comment by the Delaware News Journal.

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