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■ Volume 27

Number 49

december 9, 2013 ■ $8.50

www.molawyersmedia.com

Expertly focused. Widely acclaimed. 2013 state and national General Excellence winner

A mystery and a mess Trustee tends to cases of missing attorney who faced discipline, legal malpractice

Concussions suit uses ‘unique opportunity’ Until Jan. 1, victims of occupational diseases may seek redress in court By Scott Lauck

scott.lauck@molawyersmedia.com

Attorney Kenneth Carp and temp worker Diana Skeeter work on Thursday to organize the office of missing St. Peters attorney Jeffrey Witt. A judge appointed Carp as trustee at the request of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Carp’s job is to get files and trust account money back to clients. Photo by Karen Elshout

By Heather Cole

heather.cole@molawyersmedia.com

A St. Louis-area attorney who helped solve one mystery is at the center of another — his own disappearance. A client found attorney Jeffrey Witt’s St. Peters office unlocked, unattended and in disarray in late October and called police. St. Louis County police found him safe at home at that time, but his ex-wife reported him missing about a month later, according to police and news reports. As police investigate, recently appointed trustee Kenneth Carp is starting to mop up the mess in Witt’s practice after the Missouri Supreme Court temporarily suspended Witt’s license. St. Charles County Circuit Court Presiding

The year of lawyers in trouble

Judge Rick Zerr appointed veteran attorney Carp as trustee Wednesday at the request of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Carp’s job is to get files and Attorney Jeffrey Witt left behind at trust account monleast 62 pending ey back to the clicases when he disap- ents they belong to. peared. Witt, 39, is a father of five, according to a report on KTVI Fox News. He also is a former Marine, said Louis Basso, an attorney who knows Witt. In addition to his family, Witt left behind distressed clients with at least 62 pending cases. Witt’s troubles before he

disappeared included a pending disciplinary case, a legal malpractice lawsuit that ended with a $950,000 judgment now on the doorstep of his insurer, and a recent arrest for driving under the influence. Witt is known for fingering his former client, Milton “Skip” Ohlsen III, in a 2008 Clayton garage bombing, but there’s no indication his disappearance is linked to that case. Ohlsen is serving a 20-year sentence for the bombing that badly injured attorney John Gillis. Allegations in the discipline case range from the appalling to the odd. A client lost her home and other clients’ cases languished when Witt took little action, OCDC attorneys said in [ SE E W I T T O N P AG E 11]

The Witt case is far from the only one in which a lawyer or judge got into trouble in 2013. Our list highlights 13 other notable cases from this year, including allegations of murder, armed robbery and fraud. PAGE 10

Five former Kansas City Chiefs suing the team over brain injuries hope to take advantage of a fast-closing glitch in Missouri’s workers’ compensation law. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court, the players — Alexander Louis Cooper, Leonard Griffin, Joseph Phillips, Kevin Porter and The lead attorney for Christopher Martin, the plaintiffs, Ken Mcas well as Martin’s Clain, says the team wife, Yolanda had helped fund research that obscured Thompson-Martin the link between — allege that rerepeated concussions peated concussions and lingering brain led them to develop injuries. post-concussion syndrome and latent brain disease, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The suit makes claims for a period between Aug. 31, 1987, and March 29, 1993, during which there was no collective bargaining agreement in effect. According to the petition, there is no basis for federal jurisdiction because federal labor law is not applicable to plaintiffs’ claims and there is no collective bargaining agreement to interpret. The suit alleges that the team was negligent for failing to provide a safe work environment. But more importantly, at least for the plaintiffs’ legal argument, the suit also alleges that the team’s management fraudulently concealed information about the ill effects that repeated head trauma can cause. Medical literature for decades has observed problems from repeated concussions. An attorney for the players, Dirk Vandever, of the Popham Law Firm in [ SE E CO N CU SSI O N S O N PAG E 3]

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Getting away with it Technology is changing the equation when it comes to catching violators in the act. n Page 5

Family law

Send us your results

Guardian ad litem’s role in paternity cases remains vague.

The deadline to have cases considered in compiling the year’s Top Verdicts & Settlements is Dec. 20.

n Page 14

n verdicts.molawyersmedia.com


December 9, 2013

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M i s s o u r i L aw y e r s We e k ly

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The Chiefs’ Tom Sims, left, Christopher Martin and Joe Phillips tackle Seahawks running back Chris Warren during a 1992 game in Seattle. Martin and Phillips are two of five Chiefs players who filed a lawsuit against the Chiefs last week, alleging the team hid the risks of head injuries. File photo by The Associated Press

Glitch created in 2005 overhaul of workers comp system [CONCUSSIONS FROM PAGE 1]

Kansas City, said in an interview that the team was in a much better position to know about those studies than players were. “The employee — that is, the football player — is caught up obviously in making a living and being macho and a modern gladiator,” Vandever said. “They’re told consistently ‘It’s a little stinger, shake it off, get back in.’ ” Ted Crews, a spokesman for the Chiefs, said the team was aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment. If the plaintiffs can prove that the team knew of the risks from repeated concussions but failed to warn players, it might allow those players’ claims — which allege injuries that were incurred more than 20 years ago — to be dealt with under a relatively recent change in Missouri law. In 2005, lawmakers overhauled the state’s workers’ compensation system. A 2011 appeals court ruling said the overhaul inadvertently did away with precedents that had required victims of occupational diseases to seek redress through the workers’ compensation system, rather than sue their employers in court. Lawmakers changed the law earlier this year and restored occupational disease coverage to the workers’ compensation system. That law change, however, doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. Vandever called it a “unique opportunity.” The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Ken McClain — who litigated the 2011 case that led to occupational diseases’ exclusion from

The two former University of Missouri players’ suit makes claims on behalf of all former college football players in the United States who did not go on to play in the National Football League. File photo by The Associated Press

workers’ compensation — said the team had helped fund research that obscured the link between repeated concussions and lingering brain injuries, so that his clients couldn’t have been diagnosed until recently. “Until the last seven years, the medical community was in the dark too,” said McClain, of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain in Independence. The Jackson County suit was filed the same day that two former University of Missouri players made similar claims in a potential class action suit in federal court. Sharron D. Washington and Tony

VanZant are asking for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to pay for medical monitoring to guard against latent brain injuries caused by concusDaniel DeFeo is repsions. The suit, filed resenting two former in the U.S. District college football playCourt for the Eastern ers suing the NCAA. District of Missouri, makes claims on behalf of all former college football players in

the United States who did not go on to play in the National Football League. The suit also claims that the NCAA was negligent in its safety rules and that it concealed knowledge of the dangers of repeated concussions. Stacey Osburn, a spokeswoman for the NCAA, said in an emailed statement that the association had not been served with the complaint yet. “However, it appears to be patterned after other proposed class action litigation filed recently,” she said. “It is not unusual to see this action from plaintiff’s attorneys trying to secure a lead position in litigation of similar cases.” According to Bloomberg News, there are about 10 similar class action suits pending in courts across the country that accuse the NCAA of failing to protect athletes from concussions. The suits could be combined into multidistrict litigation for pretrial proceedings. An attorney for Washington and VanZant, Daniel DeFeo, of The DeFeo Law Firm in Lexington, didn’t return a call seeking comment. The suits follow a $765 million settlement on similar claims reached in August between the NFL and more than 5,000 former players. The settlement provides compensation for ailments stemming from head injuries and also funds medical monitoring and research. The Jackson County case is Cooper et al. v. Kansas City Chiefs Football Club Inc., 1316-CV30043. The federal case is Washington v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 4:13-cv-2434. mo


Best Sports Feature Story: Concussions suit uses 'unique opportunity' (120913)