Trials & Litigation

Unhappy with $128K award in family farm case, couple sues prominent lawyer and wins $1.1M

Originally, a Maine couple blamed an agricultural conglomerate for the loss of a potato seed farm that had been in their family for generations.

But, following a 10-year legal battle against Agway Inc., Vaughn and Mary Sleeper refocused their legal attack on a new target–their former lawyer and his firm. On Friday, a Cumberland County Superior Court jury voted 6-3 to award the couple $1.1 million, reports the Portland Press Herald.

Defendant Daniel Lilley, a prominent personal injury lawyer in Portland, expressed “utter surprise” at the verdict, telling the newspaper Monday that the couple won $128,000 from Agway thanks to his firm’s work on their behalf.

“I won the case for the Sleeper folks,” Lilley said, adding: “They didn’t think that was enough, so they sued me personally.”

Attorney Lee Bals represented the couple, who said they were driven out of business by Agway’s false claims that they sold genetically contaminated potato seeds over a decade ago and by the conglomerate’s failure to pay them money they were owed, the Press Herald recounts. The couple had a contract to sell seed potatoes to Agway, which failed to purchase the quantities it had agreed to buy, explains a 2002 federal court order (PDF) in the earlier litigation. It focused on whether Agway’s conduct was justified.

The couple contended in their suit against Lilley that he abandoned them by not pursuing their claim aggressively and keeping them informed of the progress of the case after Agway filed for bankruptcy in 2002.

Lilley says he plans to appeal the jury verdict.

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