An Illinois lawyer should be disbarred for trying to gain control of a long-running case by filing several unfounded suits alleging malpractice, fraud and a “virtual kidnapping,” according to an ethics hearing board.
The actions by Waukegan, Illinois, lawyer David Alan Novoselsky caused an “astonishing amount of harm” to several people, including clients and opposing attorneys, according to the June 10 report by a hearing board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The Chicago Tribune and the Cook County Record have coverage.
The case was a wrongful death suit filed on a behalf of a 7-year-old Romanian girl, Cristina Zvunca, who saw her mother crushed under the wheels of a Greyhound bus in 2002. The case spawned more than a dozen other lawsuits and more than two dozen appeals. The lead lawyer in the case was Jeanine Stevens; Novoselsky represented the widower, who was Cristina’s stepfather.
Cristina had lived for a time with Stevens because she wanted to attend school in the United States. Novoselsky claimed that she tricked Cristina’s grandparents into signing a custody agreement, which he deemed to be a “virtual kidnapping.” The hearing panel said that claim had no factual basis and was part of Novoselsky’s plan to drive Stevens from the case.
Novoselsky cited the malpractice suits he filed against Stevens and Cristina’s guardian ad litem to argue that they had conflicts of interest that required their removal from the case. When malpractice suits were tossed, Novoselsky filed them in new courts.
After he gained control of the case, Novoselsky settled for about $2 million in 2010, but the deal was tossed on appeal in 2013. The case settled for $5 million in 2016 after Stevens was reinstated as the lawyer.
The hearing board said Novoselsky engaged in “a sustained campaign of unfounded litigation and manipulation,” in part to drive up his fees in the case. Another motive, the panel alleged, was Novoselsky’s “overzealous desire to beat down and out-trick his opponents by any means and at any cost, whether that cost was to his own clients or, ultimately, to himself.”
The panel noted that Novoselsky was previously suspended for six months in 2015, partly for “indefensibly outrageous” statements to opposing counsel in the Greyhound bus litigation.
Novoselsky, 71, told the Chicago Tribune that he was “shocked” by the disbarment recommendation, and he plans to appeal to a review board. He said the panel failed to consider medical evidence of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and “medication that caused me to, at times, fly off the handle.”
Novoselsky told the newspaper that he stopped doing trial work after he had a stroke in 2014, and he primarily does legal research and brief writing. “I can’t threaten the public, if you will,” he said.