Legal Ethics

Lawyer's Wife Can Sue Nixon Peabody Attorney re Claimed Injuries Due to Her Own Husband's Fraud


Once a prominent New Hampshire attorney, Thomas J. Tessier was disbarred in 2008. He is serving a four-year federal prison sentence after allegedly funneling some $2.3 million from an estate for his own personal use while working at Christy & Tessier in Manchester, according to an Associated Press article published at the time of his sentencing last year.

His wife, Lorraine Tessier, says she suffered emotionally and financially. She tried to help her husband avoid losing his law license and a criminal conviction, she alleged in a lawsuit, by contributing some of her own assets to help him make partial restitution to the Beatrice Jakobiec estate.

Now, however, Lorraine Tessier could potentially recover at least some of what she has lost, according to a New Hampshire Supreme Court opinion (PDF) today. It holds that she can sue an attorney at another law firm who had nothing to do with Thomas Tessier’s fraud but simply represented one of the Jakobiec family members and tried to help get the missing money back.

Lorraine Tessier apparently never spoke with the Nixon Peabody attorney, Regina S. Rockefeller, who was retained by Dr. Frederick Jakobiec after questions were raised about Thomas Tessier’s handling of the estate matter.

But she contends she and her husband were “stripped” of their assets, including her individual homestead rights, as a result of relying on Rockefeller’s claimed statements. The Nixon Peabody lawyer allegedly told Thomas Tessier, and he then told his wife, that he could avoid potential legal discipline and criminal prosecution by paying the money back, according to the opinion.

Lorraine Tessier argued that she relied to her detriment on Rockefeller’s claimed statements, contending that she was forced under “duress” to execute a reverse mortgage on the couple’s home, for example, to come up with money for restitution.

The law firm said it owed no duty to Tessier and a state superior court judge agreed, granting a motion to dismiss by the firm and Rockefeller.

Now the state’s highest court has reversed that ruling in part. It held today that Tessier did assert a viable cause of action on claims of fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent infliction of emotional distress and, as a result, also adequately pleaded a cause of action for respondeat superior liability against the law firm.

It agreed with the trial court, however, that other causes of action, including fraud and duress, should be dismissed.

Rockefeller is a partner in Nixon Peabody’s office in Boston. In a statement provided to the ABA Journal by a spokesman, the law firm said “This decision is based on allegations in a complaint. We are reviewing the decision and will determine next steps.”

A post in The Home Equity Theft Reporter Cases & Articles provides some additional details about Thomas Tessier’s alleged criminal conduct.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog

Udpated at 4:31 p.m. to include law firm statement.

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