The former president and CEO of Chicago-based GoPicnic Brands, which specializes in the production of “healthy” and portable shelf-stable prepackaged meals, has sued Synergy Law Group, a Chicago law firm she said gave her bum legal advice and then partnered with venture capitalists to oust her from leadership of the company she helped found, allegedly costing her millions of dollars.
On Dec. 31, Julia Stamberger filed a legal malpractice complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Synergy Law, saying the firm owes her money for its actions from 2012 up to the April 2014 “coup” removing her from her position. She has alleged breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and legal malpractice against Synergy, the sole defendant named in the complaint.
Stamberger, who had formerly worked for United Airlines, had founded GoPicnic in 2006 with fellow entrepreneur Pam Jelaca, selling their prepackaged meals and snacks to institutional players, including airlines, and to consumers directly and through retail outlets. According to GoPicnic’s website, the meals and snacks are generally available at a variety of grocery outlets, including Target.
According to published reports, Jelaca departed company management in 2008. Stamberger then incorporated the business in 2011.
According to Stamberger’s lawsuit, GoPicnic issued preferred stock in September 2012 to two venture capital firms, granting them 24 percent of the company’s stock. Stamberger said Synergy served as legal counsel during the sale, advising her, individually, and GoPicnic.
However, Stamberger alleged Synergy’s advice would turn out to be rotten, as the Synergy attorneys “failed to negotiate and document a written compensation and employment agreement between Stamberger and (GoPicnic). Nor did Synergy suggest Stamberger needed other counsel for this purpose.”
Following the stock sale to the venture capitalists, Stamberger said Synergy continued to act as counsel to both her and the company, advising on amendments to the documents governing stockholder votes at the company, among other measures.
According to the complaint, Synergy’s simultaneous representation of Stamberger and GoPicnic “riled the venture capital investors,” who then threatened to fire Synergy as GoPicnic’s counsel.
In her complaint, Stamberger alleged from that moment Synergy secretly turned on her, “taking steps to preserve its position as company counsel and to assist the VCs with ousting Stamberger as president and CEO.”
She alleged Synergy quietly worked with the VCs to issue themselves and the VCs “substantial GoPicnic stock at favorable prices,” and then used the documents they had negotiated and amended to justify their actions.
Later, Stamberger alleged Synergy used its new stock position and information provided by Stamberger to partner with the VCs on corporate votes opposed by Stamberger and facilitate the VCs “coup” to remove Stamberger from her management posts and “take control of GoPicnic.”
In 2014, GoPicnic Brands filed for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing the internal dispute with Stamberger as one of the reasons it sought federal bankruptcy protection. That case remains pending in federal bankruptcy court in Chicago.
In her new complaint against Synergy, Stamberger does not specify how much money she believes Synergy’s alleged actions may have cost her, saying only she believes the dollar figure to be in the “millions.” She has demanded compensatory and punitive damages from the law firm.
Stamberger is represented in the action against Synergy by the firm of Sperling & Slater, of Chicago.