Written by Samuel A. Lopez, Legal News Reporter for USA Herald
A Reputation Tarnished: Attorney Strikes Back
In a high-stakes legal battle, Miami tax attorney Hal J. Webb accuses Sharon Dresser, the widow of his former law partner, of defamation. Webb claims that his once stellar reputation was “destroyed overnight” by a news report on Dresser’s lawsuit. In this suit, Dresser accused Webb of scheming to keep the proceeds of a $2 million life insurance policy, tarnishing Webb’s image as an honest and trustworthy person.
Despite litigants typically being protected from defamation claims when statements are made during legal proceedings, Webb’s case against Dresser has some strengths under New Jersey law. As a partner at Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP, Webb asserts that the press coverage portraying him as taking advantage of a grieving widow was particularly damaging to his profession, as he regularly counsels surviving spouses in his line of work.
Untangling the Twisted Threads: Webb’s Side of the Story
Webb began working with Steven Cantor, Dresser’s late husband, in 1999 and eventually became an equity partner with a 40% stake in the firm. By 2015, Webb was unhappy with Cantor’s management and treatment, eventually leaving for Bilzin Sumberg in June 2016. Tragically, Cantor committed suicide on October 11, 2016.
Webb testified that he and Cantor had already resolved issues related to their former firm and had granted each other releases. He also claimed that Dresser called him after Cantor’s death, asking to share the $2 million “key man” life insurance policy on Cantor. Webb agreed to give her some of the money, believing it was what Cantor would have done. However, Dresser eventually received $5 million from Cantor’s personal life insurance policy, as it was still in a grace period despite having lapsed.
The Widow’s Perspective: Dresser Speaks Out
Dresser testified that she likely asked Webb for some of the $2 million policy’s proceeds because she believed it belonged to the firm. She also claimed that her financial adviser was instructed not to discuss the $5 million policy with Webb, as it was a private matter.
Moreover, Dresser stated that she authorized the press release but did not recall seeing its contents before distribution. She disagreed that the release contained defamatory statements, believing they merely reflected the complaint.
The Bitter Reality: Lies, Fraud, and Unaccountability in Legal Pleadings
This contentious case highlights a concerning reality in the legal world. Numerous individuals make false statements in legal pleadings without being held accountable for their lies or the fraud they commit upon the court. In an exclusive report by USA Herald, Samuel A. Lopez delves into the complexities of this case to shed light on the potential repercussions of such behavior.
The Verdict and Beyond
In February 2021, Judge William Thomas granted summary judgment in Webb’s favor on Dresser’s claims. The judge ruled that Webb was the rightful named beneficiary to the key man insurance and that Dresser had signed away any right to the proceeds through a settlement agreement with Webb. If Webb prevails on his defamation claim, a second phase of the trial is expected to follow, determining whether punitive damages are warranted.
This intricate legal battle serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the potential ramifications of making false statements in legal proceedings and the complexities that can arise from matters of defamation, deception, and reputation.