Attorney Sues Former Partner, Ex-Judge Alleging Theft, Hacking

A Livingston attorney has sued his former partner and a former Superior Court judge, alleging that he was cheated out of his share of the firm’s profits and was the victim of computer hacking by attorneys at the firm.
Maurice J. Donovan, a complex litigation attorney, filed a complaint last week in the Essex County Superior Court against his former partner Benjamin M. Del Vento, alleging, among other things, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, and a charge related to alleged computer hacking. The suit also names Benjamin M. Del Vento Jr., Matthew D. Del Vento and former Essex County Superior Court Judge Carol A. Ferentz as defendants.
Neither defense attorney Wayne J. Positan nor any of the named defendants returned a call seeking comment Monday.
“Maurice built the firm over 30 years, and it’s just sad that we have to litigate to get his share of the income and assets,” said Nagel Rice attorney Bruce Nagel, who filed the suit on behalf of Donovan. “It’s also quite disturbing that a former judge in Essex County orchestrated the hacking of his computer.”
Nagel said he is not aware of exactly what the defendants were trying to view when they allegedly hacked Donovan’s computer, but the defendants allegedly used a third-party computer to gain access to the computer.
“We’ll have to find out what it is they were trying to do,” Nagel said. “It was shocking and now they’re going to pay the price for it.”
According to the 24-page complaint, Donovan began working with Del Vento in 1982 as an associate at Del Vento’s firm, Wald and Del Vento. The two became very close professionally and personally, the complaint said, with Del Vento treating Donovan as a mentor. Donovan became a certified civil trial attorney in 1993, and took over as the firm’s main personal injury litigator, trying products liability, medical malpractice and complex liability cases, the complaint said. Donovan was made an equity partner that year, the complaint said.
Del Vento, according to the complaint, focused on administrative duties and bringing in clients, and Donovan also relied on Del Vento to handle taxes, compensation and retirement benefits.
According to the complaint, the firm had many prosperous years, including 1996 when Donovan tried a crashworthiness case to a nearly $18 million verdict. Benjamin Del Vento Jr. joined the firm in 2000, and Matthew Del Vento joined in 2001. According to the complaint, Donovan focused on the complex cases, while the other two worked on litigating smaller cases, including handling “expedited” trials where there was limited testimony and only expert reports.
The relationship between Donovan and the Del Ventos began to sour in 2013 after Del Vento told Donovan that 2013 had been a difficult year and there would be no profits to share with Donovan. The following year, Del Vento became ill and his sons took a more active role in the firm, including taking over payroll and litigation duties, the complaint said. Donovan objected to many of the changes, and the business decisions, according to the complaint, became much more secretive, with the Del Ventos allegedly moving the firm’s records to a cabinet Donovan could not access.
The complaint said Donovan settled numerous big cases in 2014, but he was not given any profits for that year. According to the complaint, Del Vento eventually refused to compensate Donovan for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
In July 2016, Ferentz, who served on the Essex County bench from 1984 until 2004, joined the firm “to provide them with an ally to force Donovan to leave the firm,” and on Aug. 22 Ferentz and the Del Vento sons “orchestrated an illegal, improper and unauthorized hacking of Donovan’s computer,” the complaint said. Donovan quit the firm later that day. Despite working for 30 years, Donovan had about $250,000 in the plan when he resigned, the complaint said.
The complaint alleged that Del Vento’s “fraudulent accounting methods” cheated him out of pension funds, and Del Vento further “lied” about the pension funds and tax documents to hide his “theft of firm monies.”
“In order to avoid paying Donovan a share of the profits, Del Vento diverted the profits of the firm and, in part, secretly funneled them to his two sons,” the complaint said.


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