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Client Who Was Left Destitute Gets Jury Award of $21 Million

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury has ordered a Santa Ana lawyer to pay $21 million to a woman who claimed that his faulty advice in business dealings left her destitute.

Jurors returned the verdict Friday against Lee Durst, whose client accused him of negligently handling a lawsuit against a mortgage company and recklessly handling her and her husband’s investment in a Kansas nightclub.

Superior Court Judge James Selna is scheduled to review the verdict this morning. He has the authority to reduce the amount of the judgment.

Durst, a California lawyer for 25 years, was accused in the lawsuit of botching his client’s legal claim against the mortgage company, which foreclosed on her San Juan Capistrano home.

On a separate issue, Durst was faulted for recommending that plaintiff Robin Wilt and her husband hire a manager for their Kansas nightclub without disclosing that the man had a criminal record. The club quickly sank into financial trouble, with about $500,000 in revenue unaccounted for, said Wilt’s lawyer, Steven Young.

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As a result, Wilt and her husband sold off their vast real estate holdings and ended up living in a motel, Young said. Wilt’s husband, Steven, died before the case went to trial.

The trial lasted several weeks, and jurors took one day to reach the decision.

The hefty award included compensation not only for monetary losses but also for other types of damages.

The jury awarded Wilt $3 million for infliction of emotional distress. Another $12,000 was set aside for Wilt’s future psychotherapy costs.

Durst’s attorney, Ed Blumenthal, declined to comment.


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