A Fairfax jury has awarded a Leesburg man $5.75 million in a legal malpractice suit.
Bruce McLaughlin won his case against the law firm of Sheylin Smith in a bizarre case.
In 1998, McLaughlin, a Leesburg resident and attorney, was going through a divorce with his wife, with whom he had had a tumultuous relationship. During the proceedings, his wife accused McLaughlin of sexually abusing three of their four children. While the Department of Social Services found the claims of abuse against his twin daughters, then age 7, unfounded, allegations against his sons, then ages 12 and 9, were considered founded.
In November 1998, McLaughlin went to trial represented by Harvey Volzer and William Schewe. After a two-week trial, the jury found McLaughlin guilty and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. In February 2000, McLaughlin tried to escape prison.
In 2002, McLaughlin, represented by Alex Levay, was granted a new trial after a judge ruled his previous counsel ineffective. McLaughlin was acquitted in December 2002 of all charges in a second criminal trial.
In 2005, the Shevlin Smith law firm filed a malpractice complaint against Schewe, Volzer and their firms. According to a press release from attorney Tom Plofchan, the suit alleged that the attorneys "had not properly sought certain notes written by his children and their mother that were inconsistent with other interviews the children had given to the Leesburg Police" and "had not listened to the audio tapes of the interviews, which would have established that the police had not properly transcribed the interviews."
In September of that year, the Shevlin Smith law firm advised McLaughlin settle with Schewe and his firm for $50,000. But because legal malpractice is a contract case, not a tort case, the document prepared by Shevlin and Smith that McLaughlin signed released not only Schewe from liability, but Volzer as well.
McLaughlin, with Plofchan as his new attorney, believed the $50,000 was not enough in compensatory damages, and brought suit against Shevlin and Smith.
Beginning Sept. 30, 2013, the civil suit against Shevlin and Smith lasted close to a month. Evidence was presented at the trial regarding not only the civil case, but the original sexual abuse case. Both of McLaughlin's sons, now in their 20s, testified on behalf of their father. Both men recanted their original allegations. One of McLaughlin's daughters, however, and his ex-wife testified on behalf of the defense.
Though the amount awarded is one of the highest in the state, McLaughlin can appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court for more compensation, something he has indicated he is not interested in doing.