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Misha Defonseca award tripled; multiple damages result in total award of $22.5 million for holocaust survivor

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  • Sullivan & Worcester LLP background summary: on behalf of Misha Defonseca, 'Misha: A memoir of the holocaust years'

Boston - Sullivan & Worcester LLP announced today that Holocaust survivor Misha Defonseca has been awarded a total of $22.5 million in damages, plus more than $487,000 in attorneys' fees, stemming from her suit against Mt. Ivy Press, the publisher of her book, "Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years." The decision was handed down by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey, who found that Mt. Ivy and its principal, Jane Daniel, willfully and knowingly engaged in unfair and deceptive acts and practices in their dealings with Defonseca.

Misha Defonseca was reluctant to tell the story of how, at the age of 7, she fled to the Belgian forests in 1941 when her parents were taken by the Nazis. But the publisher persuaded her to produce: "Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years" which recounted the four years Defonseca spent living in the woods, sometimes beside wolves, hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

In August 2001, a Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Superior Court jury awarded $7.5 million to Mrs. Defonseca after finding that Mt. Ivy Press breached its contract with the author in numerous respects, including by hiding legitimate royalties in off-shore accounts, and further defrauded Defonseca by misleading her about Mt. Ivy's capabilities and how the book would be marketed within the United States.

Subsequent to the Jury's verdict, Mrs. Defonseca's attorneys Larry L. Varn and Ramona Hamblin of Sullivan & Worcester LLP asked Judge Fahey to triple the jury award, the maximum allowed under Massachusetts state law. In her decision awarding triple damages, Judge Fahey found that:

* Daniel falsely represented Mt. Ivy's publishing abilities and experience

* Mt. Ivy entered into a scam transaction orchestrated by Daniel to withhold monies owed to Defonseca

* Mt. Ivy and Daniel put off all promotional efforts, including an Oprah Winfrey show appearance, in a wrongful effort to obtain all rights to Defonseca's story

* Mt. Ivy failed to use its best efforts to license the dramatic rights to the work

* Mt. Ivy failed to provide accurate royalty statements

* Mt. Ivy fraudulently pilfered copyrights and monies owed to Defonseca

* Mt. Ivy and Daniel wrongfully took steps to prevent Defonseca from receiving her rightful share of the copyright interest in her story and also from having the exclusive right to market the work in France

* Mt. Ivy and Daniel intentionally caused emotional and psychological injuries to Defonseca.

In her opinion, Judge Fahey concluded that Mt. Ivy's and Daniel's business dealings "were clearly outside the penumbra of any established concept of fairness" and that their conduct was "extremely egregious" while adding that "any reasonable business person would find Daniel and Mt. Ivy's conduct reprehensible."

"In response to Mt. Ivy's urging to produce the book and recall those painful memories, Mrs. Defonseca suffered the additional pain of seeing her life story misused, misrepresented and misappropriated by Mt. Ivy," said Larry L. Varn, Partner at Sullivan & Worcester. "Without money, facing the loss of her home, she maintained her courage and dignity and refused to allow Mt. Ivy to take that, which undisputedly was hers: her story. We applaud Judge Fahey's decision."

The verdict and the decision on triple damages are the culmination of several years' legal effort by Defonseca and her law firm, Sullivan & Worcester LLP. The firm has pursued Defonseca's case without payment because of the compelling circumstances of Defonseca's life and her victimization at the hands of Mt. Ivy.

First published by Mt. Ivy Press in 1997, "Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years" was a bestseller in France, Italy and Quebec, and caught the eye of movie producers, including Walt Disney Studios. However, it sold only 5,000 copies in the United States because Mt. Ivy terminated marketing efforts, including a segment on the Oprah Winfrey Show, in support of the book in 1997. Misha Defonseca now hopes to tell her story in the United States by reprinting the book and selling its movie rights.

Founded in 1941, Sullivan & Worcester LLP is a full service law firm headquartered in Boston with offices in New York and Washington, DC. The firm's practices include corporate, litigation, tax and energy. The firms represents both domestic and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies and high-profile financial institutions to individual entrepreneurs, joint ventures and closely-held enterprises.

SOURCE Sullivan and Worcester



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