Architecture firm claims Chicago law firm's alleged malpractice cost it a $10M claim

By Annie Cosby | Nov 4, 2014


An architecture firm is suing a Chicago construction law firm, accusing a trio of attorneys of failing to properly represent it in a copyright infringement case.

Barefoot Architect Inc. filed a legal malpractice lawsuit Oct. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court against the law firm of Sabo & Zahn and its attorneys: Werner Sabo, James Zahn and Shawn Goodman.

According to the complaint, Alexander Michael Milne was the co-owner of Village Vernacular Inc. and the owner of Barefoot Architect Inc. (BAI) -- both based in the U. S. Virgin Islands and sharing staff and offices-- in May 1999, when he was hired to design a home for Sarah Bunge and Thomas Friedberg.

Milne says the project was done under Village, but when the company began eliminating its architecture practice, it sold the copyright to BAI, and the process continued with BAI, the suit states.

BAI claims that in 2001, in the middle of construction, a dispute arose over payment for design changes, and Bunge and Friedberg attempted to take the firm's drawings to other licensed professionals. The plaintiff contends it terminated the contract with the couple due to failure to pay, a move that also terminated the license to use its designs.

The suit states several engineers turned down the project, but in 2002, Bunge and Friedberg hired Tracy Roberts and Springline Architects, which used BAI's amended designs for which it received no compensation. BAI then hired the defendants to represent it in arbitration in 2003 and a federal copyright action in 2004 over the matter.

BAI alleges the defendants advised it could potentially recover more than $10 million, but raised no concerns over the ownership of the copyright in dispute, which the firm asserts is the most important element of a copyright infringement action.

According to the lawsuit, Bunge, Friedberg, Roberts and Springline argued that BAI did not hold the copyright and the district court ruled in their favor.

BAI accuses the defendants of legal malpractice for failing to join Village Vernacular as a party to its complaint or arguing that it and Village's conduct implied the transfer of the copyright, which the complaint states the court allegedly acknowledged Sabo & Zahn could have done but failed to do.

BAI asserts it suffered damages in the form of a $100,500 judgment entered against it, a $49,400 judgment against it to pay attorney fees, a $241,100 judgment against it to pay copyright attorney fees and the loss of its $10 million claim.

The plaintiff firm is seeking more than $50,000 in damages in an amount to be determined at trial and is being represented by attorneys Jefferey O. Katz and Eric J. Chisholm of The Patterson Law Firm in Chicago.

Cook County Circuit Court case number: 2014L010844.

This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note, a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt and it represents only one side of the story.

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