Gene Locks came to Cherry Hill later that month and demanded that Morris turn over the files at once or face termination. Morris says she questioned the propriety of the manner in which the diet-drug cases were settled and the reduction in Weber's settlement and said she would report them.
She then removed files and the firm fired her on Nov. 28, 2000, allegedly for theft of them.
Morris sued the firm, Locks and Pettit in Camden County on June 4, 2001, for violation of CEPA, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and detrimental reliance.
Superior Court Judge Charles Little dismissed all of Morris' claims except breach of contract. By the time of the bench trial, which ran from December 2006 to February 2007, the Locks firm had a counterclaim against her and against the Ominsky firm, which in turn had claims against Morris and the Locks firm. The trial outcome was a net award of $12,406 for Greitzer & Locks against Morris, $11,543 for the Ominsky firm against Greitzer & Locks and $32,057 for the Ominsky firm against Morris.
On Thursday, Appellate Division judges Mary Catherine Cuff, Clarkson Fisher Jr. and Christine Miniman said Little was wrong in dismissing the CEPA claim. The statute clearly applied because Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(g), which requires informed client consent for an aggregate settlement, "closely relates" to the complained-of conduct, and RPC 7.1(a), which prohibits false and misleading communications, might also apply, they wrote per curiam.
The judges also found CEPA did not require Morris to go to the Office of Attorney Ethics. The "'threat' of reporting the activity to a public body is all the statute requires," they wrote.
Because Little struck the jury demand over the Ominsky firm's objection and all the claims were "inextricably intertwined," the appeals court required a new trial on all claims.
Morris' lawyer, Carl Poplar of Cherry Hill, says the case highlights concerns about the use of aggregate settlement in mass tort cases.
The opinion mentions no dollar figure for Weber's settlement or Morris' fee claim because Little granted a motion by the Locks firm to seal that information, over his objection, Poplar says.
Not returning calls for comment were Pettit, Locks, Kimberly Sutton, of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Cherry Hill, who represents the Ominsky firm, now Ominsky & Ominsky, and Joseph Kenney, of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Voorhees, N.J., the trial lawyer for the Locks defendants. Pettit argued the appeal.
Morris no longer practices law and has returned to her previous career, nursing.