Partnership Law

Death of King of Torts Threatens Ohio Law Firm's Lush Life

  • Print

The untimely death of one of Cleveland’s best-known plaintiffs lawyers has sparked an ugly court spat that could require dissolution of his super-profitable firm and the sale of its private jets and arena football team.

The widow of Michael Kelley, known locally as the King of Torts, has filed suit in Ohio state court against his partner, James Ferraro. In the suit, she asks a Cuyahoga County judge to order Ferraro to liquidate the billion-dollar asbestos practice that the two men built up over nine years before Kelley died of a heart attack in 2006, reports the National Law Journal (sub. req.). The article is also reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

However, Ferraro reportedly contends the firm partnership agreement is silent about what is to happen in the event of a partner’s death. Instead of paying Lynn Kelley, a former municipal judge, half of the firm’s assets—once estimated at $3.5 billion—he maintains, according to an unnamed source, that it is up to a judge to decide how to divide the assets of the the 15-lawyer firm, the legal newspaper reports. His lawyer, John Climaco, of Climaco, Lefkowitz, Peca, Wilcox & Garofoli, declines to comment, because of a gag order issued by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul.

Ferraro reportedly said in earlier interviews that he had an oral agreement with Kelley that survivors would get payments from the firm for several years if either partner died.

But Kelley’s lawyer, William Wuliger, says the partnership agreement calls for the firm to be dissolved and its assets divided if a “liquidating event” occurs. “And I believe a liquidating event includes death,” he states.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.