A Stamford Superior Court jury has awarded the former treasurer of an investment advisory firm $4.15 million plus interest and fees for not meeting a contractual obligation to buy him out after he gave notice he was leaving the firm.
Following more than five weeks at trial, a six-person jury handed down the verdict Nov. 3, finding Westport-based Partner Wealth Management and three of its members were obligated to buy out William Lomas’ 25-percent share of the company upon his departure in 2014. When Kevin Burns, James Pratt-Heaney and William Loftus failed to buy him out, Lomas sued. An amended suit was filed in December 2015.
The total amount of the award—with six percent interest plus attorney fees—is expected to total between $7 and $8 million, according to Thomas Rechen, one of Lomas’ attorneys. The defense has until Nov. 17 to file post-trial motions, which could lead to an appeal in Appellate Court.
“He was entitled to have his equity interest,” said Rechen, a partner with McCarter & English in Hartford. “There were a plethora of emails that showed they were searching for a way to get out from under this obligation, and they ultimately concluded that the way to do this was to amend the agreement after he gave notice.”
Rechen said the firm and its three remaining members “reduced the obligation by a little more than $1 million, but they did not pay him that either.” In addition to breach of contract, the defendants were accused of willful and wanton misconduct.
Partner Wealth Management was founded in 2009 when the four men left Merrill Lynch’s Westport offices start their own investment business, handling accounts for wealthy investors in the region.
In October 2014, Lomas, now 59, gave notice that he would be leaving the company in January 2015. Rechen said evidence at trial showed Lomas and his fellow partners did not see eye to eye on the future of the firm.
After deliberating for a day and a half, the jury found in favor of Lomas on all counts.
“They made a counter-claim that Mr. Lomas committed fraud and that he breached his fiduciary duty,” Rechen said Friday. “They also said he did not perform his work as a member or partner like he should have. They also claimed he delayed important decisions for the firm and failed in the execution of important decisions for the firm.” The jury disagreed and “found for us across the board.”
Rechen said his client “feels vindicated, first and foremost. He always believed he was right in what he was entitled to under the 2009 contract. He also feels vindicated that the jury gave no credence to the counter claims filed against him.”
The attorney added that he is confident the owed money will be collected. “We believe the money will be there. These are guys that manage the money of very wealthy people and they have done very well in their business,” Rechen said. “We believe that, at the end of the day, there will be available assets to pay my client.”
The firm and its three other members are represented by two attorneys: Tom O’Dea, of Diserio Martin O’Connor & Castiglioni in Stamford and Gerard Fox of the Gerard Fox Law Firm in Los Angeles. Both men declined comment Friday.
Assisting Rechen on the case were Brittany Kilian, James Regan, Shawn Smith, Ben Elliott and Charles Ray.