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Elizabeth Arnold once reminisced that she, sister Rosemarie and their four siblings learned as kids in a gritty New York neighborhood that a robust sense of self-worth was as valuable as money. Now the Arnold sisters are lawyers in their 40s, and it’s all about the money. Since 2003, when Elizabeth left Rosemarie’s high-powered, high-volume Fort Lee, N.J., personal injury firm, they have been in nasty, let-it-all-hang-out litigation over fees: $200,000 may be at stake. And it has gotten personal. Elizabeth filed a civil rights claim against her sister. Rosemarie countered with pleadings that suggested Elizabeth did little more than hold clients’ hands and manage the office and earned big money for it. The Bergen County Bar has never seen anything like it. “Countless people have told them to settle, but there’s some unfortunate family dynamic at work here,” says a lawyer who knows both Arnolds. Superior Court Judge Richard Donohue said at an April hearing, “I doubt this case could ever be settled.” Then he told their attorneys: “It’s bad enough you have two sisters that are killing each other in this case. I just hope everybody is being paid by these two women.” Rosemarie, the subject of an Aug. 17, 2003, profile in The Record of Hackensack titled, “The Courtroom Bulldog Who Won’t Be Leashed,” sued first. She alleged that Elizabeth resigned in 2003 and took confidential client lists to another firm, North Bergen’s LaBarbiera, Jones & Martinez. Rosemarie sued that firm, too, for tortious interference. Rosemarie also claimed that Elizabeth took origination fees on cases she didn’t really initiate during her five years as an associate and is seeking payment for any work on the cases Elizabeth took with her. Elizabeth countersued under the state Law Against Discrimination, saying she didn’t resign but was constructively discharged because of a disabling back injury. Elizabeth also claims Rosemarie owes her origination fees for cases she brought into the firm and that remained there after the 2003 split. The largest dram shop verdict in U.S. history is among the cases they worked on together. The firm once represented Antonia Verni, who this year won $105 million from a Giants Stadium concessionaire held responsible for the drunkenness of a fan who struck Verni’s car and turned her into a quadriplegic. Proceedings to apportion the fees between Rosemarie and the trial firm, Roseland’s Nagel Rice & Mazie, are on hold pending the vendor’s appeal of the award, so nobody knows what any of the lawyers in the case will get. According to pleadings in the Verni case, Rosemarie and other lawyers on her team handled pretrial legal work, but Elizabeth was liaison to Verni’s parents and was the face of the firm as far as the Vernis were concerned. Elizabeth said in a deposition she was told by another lawyer on the case — not Rosemarie — that she would get a bonus if the Vernis won. MEETING AND GREETING The sisters did not return calls last week, and their attorneys didn’t talk much, either. The case is well-documented, however, in the seven, fat, bright green folders that are the public file of Arnold v. Arnold, Ber-L-6715-03. Rosemarie’s Fort Lee firm, whose Web site advertises as The Personal Injury Center and lists 10 lawyers, is said to be one of the busiest negligence firms in the county. Elizabeth went to law school after working in the publishing business and, when she passed the bar in 1998 at age 34, went to work for her one-year-older sister. Elizabeth wasn’t the typical associate. She did no legal work on cases and didn’t go to court but instead served as office manager, met new clients and kept them abreast of developments, Rosemarie said in her complaint. She received $203,000 in 2001 and $222,000 in 2002, and that didn’t include benefits and referral fees Elizabeth earned for bringing in cases. “My job was to keep clients happy and provide a personal touch,” Elizabeth said later in a deposition. “I did it well.” The working relationship ended in July 2003, when Elizabeth left for LaBarbiera Jones. Rosemarie says Elizabeth quit; Elizabeth says she was, in effect, fired. “I think when someone says to you, ‘Get the f– out of my office,’ you can assume there is not good feeling there,” Elizabeth said in a deposition. Rosemarie accused Elizabeth of copying a client list from the firm’s computer and contacting a number of clients in attempts to woo them and their cases to LaBarbiera Jones. Elizabeth denied she took proprietary information, and her new firm denied the claim it had engaged in tortious interference. That October, Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne ordered the return of any computer data Elizabeth took, told her not to copy anything and told LaBarbiera Jones not to contact Rosemarie’s clients. Elizabeth has said that the clients she approached were people who considered her their lawyer, but Rosemarie has said some changed their minds when they discovered Rosemarie, not Elizabeth, was the one working on their cases. According to a November 2003 accounting, Rosemarie transferred 10 files to Elizabeth’s new firm and received about $16,000 for costs Rosemarie had expended on those clients’ behalf. Since then, Elizabeth’s LAD claims have traveled a rocky road. She suffered back injuries in accidents, one a car crash so serious she collected most of a $100,000 policy limit in a suit handled by Rosemarie. Indeed, whether Rosemarie has the right to keep legal fees for work she did for Elizabeth on the car crash case became part of the sisters’ battle. Constantly in pain, Elizabeth underwent back surgery in 2003 and was out of work for several months, but when she returned Rosemarie failed to accommodate her disability, Elizabeth claimed. “It was a hostile work environment when I came back from surgery,” Elizabeth said in her complaint. She stopped getting agreed-upon compensation, including referral fees pursuant to the employment agreement. Imposing a new requirement that she swipe a time card to support her claims of time worked amounted to constructive discharge, according to the claim. DISCOVERY ISSUES So far, Elizabeth hasn’t fared well in the litigation. Donohue ruled in April that she had failed to provide adequate answers to interrogatories, struck her defenses and dismissed the counterclaims. He relented in late September and said he would vacate his order if Elizabeth answered interrogatories and provided certain documents. Last week, Elizabeth’s lawyer, Philip Elberg of Newark’s Medvin & Elberg, said he has provided the information, but Rosemarie’s lawyer in the LAD case, Marilyn Sneirson of Newark’s Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, said Elberg has not complied and she is pursuing the dismissal motion. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for November. Even if the discovery issue is cleared up, Elizabeth faces a summary judgment motion on the LAD claim, which Donohue said in April he was inclined to grant. Elberg has argued that the discovery issue is bogus, partly because Rosemarie has all the information she needs, plus deposition testimony by all concerned. He also has said in pleadings that the case shouldn’t be in Bergen County, where Rosemarie is a big player, well known to the judges. During the hearing in April, Donohue rejected the notion that Rosemarie, who he said he had met three times before the case, carried any extra weight in the litigation. Elberg said in a certification, though, “Too often I have heard this case described as an ugly emotional fight between sisters. It is that, but it is also a dispute between a wealthy employer who brags about having the largest personal injury practice in the county and a former employee who is disabled.” Elberg said last week that the pleadings were mostly an attempt by Rosemarie to “beat up on her sister and make herself look good and to make me sorry I ever took the case.” Robert Jones, a partner in Elizabeth’s new firm, said that after almost two years of litigation he couldn’t figure out why his firm was still being pursued for damages. In a motion for summary judgment he complained that the dispute between the sisters was understandable but that Rosemarie had continued the suit against the firm. She knew that LaBarbiera Jones had put fees in dispute in escrow, that the firm never had her client lists and that the firm had, in effect, given her everything she wanted, Jones argued in July. In August, he and Rosemarie filed a stipulation of dismissal. In a certification in March, Rosemarie sought to portray herself as a boon to her sister’s career. She said she helped Elizabeth in a successful appeal of her dismissal from Seton Hall University School of Law after her first semester when Elizabeth’s back pains prevented her from studying. Indeed, Elizabeth’s entire Seton Hall record, including Elizabeth’s grade transcript, correspondence about her academic problems and her confidential application essay, were included as an exhibit in one of Rosemarie’s pleadings and ended up in the public file. In the essay, Elizabeth wrote about how her father had died when she was four, leaving a widow and six children. She described their Washington Heights neighborhood as “violent and troubled,” but said all six kids worked hard, went to New York’s prestigious Bronx High School of Science and ended up with graduate degrees. “What we lacked in possessions we made up in what truly counts, that is, a strong sense of self worth and the ability to succeed in adverse situations,” she wrote.

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