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Judge’s remarks led to legal-mal settlement

As a June 3 trial date approached, Ropes & Gray and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory had tried – and failed – in attempts to both settle and mediate the legal malpractice case that the New York research institution filed against the Boston law firm and one of its former attorneys. Then came a May 20 motions in limine hearing before Massachusetts Superior Court Business Litigation Session Judge Christine M. Roach.

“I will say that it’s extraordinary to me that this case cannot be resolved short of trial,” Roach said at the hearing, according to a transcript. “And let me just say this. I have not prejudged any of these merits. I’m talking about the way a jury, a sophisticated Suffolk jury, is likely to see this case and I think they are likely to find liability and they are likely then to be very skeptical, confused and compromising about damages.

“I don’t think I’m telling you anything you haven’t already thought about, but that is simple in terms of business vision making that I want you to consider because you need to think about it that way.”

Roach’s prediction that jurors would find Ropes & Gray and/or Matthew P. Vincent, the since-disbarred attorney, at fault but then struggle with damages motivated all sides finally to sit down and hammer out an agreement. The parties still aren’t revealing the value of the cash settlement.

Cold Spring’s lawsuit alleged the mishandling of a patent filing by Ropes and Vincent that resulted in a multiyear delay in it being able to patent and commercialize a type of engineered molecule used in cancer research and drug development. In a joint pre-trial memorandum, Cold Spring claimed its total damages were at least $25.9 million. The parties had been prepared to call a total of 19 fact and expert witnesses for a trial they expected to last multiple weeks, according to the memorandum.


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