March 13, 2010

LaPointe lawyer looks to settle


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Derek Davis/Staff Photographer: Robert LaPointe listens to the judge instruct the jury, Monday, Sept. 22, 2008, during the final day of the manslaughter trial at Superior Court in Portland. LaPointe is charged in the death of Terry Raye Trott, 55, and Suzanne Groetzinger, 44, on Long Lake after his boat collided with the boat they were riding in the night of Aug. 11, 2007.

Staff Writer

The civil attorney for Robert LaPointe says he hopes to settle the wrongful death claims against his client soon, now that the Massachusetts boater has been convicted on two counts of drunken boating in a crash that killed two people last summer.

''We're going to have a meeting soon,'' Seth Holbrook of Holbrook & Murphy in Boston said Friday. He said he hopes the parties can reach an agreement that will avoid a civil trial.

''This is a somewhat complex matter,'' Holbrook said, but ''We're looking to settle amicably.''

Holbrook will meet with the lawyers representing the families of Suzanne Groetzinger and Terry Raye Trott. Groetzinger, 44, of Berwick, and Trott, 55, of Harrison, died on the night of Aug. 11, 2007, when their motorboat was run over by a much larger boat driven by LaPointe on Long Lake in Harrison. The couple had been together for a few months, and had gone out on the lake to watch a meteor shower.

LaPointe, 39, was convicted on Sept. 24 by a jury at Cumberland County Superior Court, on two counts of aggravated operating under the influence. The jury deadlocked on charges of manslaughter and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon. Justice Robert Crowley earlier this month sentenced LaPointe to 31/2 years in prison, to be followed by two years of probation.

The families of Groetzinger and Trott filed claims against LaPointe in May, but those were essentially put on hold as the parties awaited the results of the criminal case.

In court filings prior to the criminal trial, Holbrook said there was still an open dispute about who caused the fatal crash. He raised an issue that played a prominent role in the trial -- that witnesses said Trott was operating his boat without lights.

''Mr. Trott could well have been at fault,'' Holbrook said in an affidavit filed in August. ''If Trott was in violation of a rule, such as regards to lighting, the plaintiffs would then have to show the violation could not have been the cause of the collision.''

The conviction of LaPointe, however, essentially takes away any question about liability, said Benjamin Gideon, the lawyer who represents the Groetzinger family. The only questions remaining, Gideon said, are how much money the families are entitled to under Maine law, and how much LaPointe has left after going into debt to pay for his criminal defense.

''He will not be able to argue in the civil case he was not negligent,'' Gideon said in a Sept. 26 interview with the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, Mass. ''That was foreclosed by the finding beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of aggravated operating under the influence.''

Gideon was not available for comment Friday.

At the time of the crash, LaPointe was covered by a $300,000 liability policy, which would be split among all parties in the event of an approved claim. The families of Groetzinger and Trott are seeking $400,000 apiece for the wrongful death and $75,000 in punitive damages.

The fact that the families seek much more than LaPointe's insurance policy has raised questions about his family's finances.

According to court documents, after LaPointe was indicted, he and his wife, Heather, took out a $100,000 equity loan on a summer home on Buswell Road in Bridgton and sold 100 acres of land on Whitney Road to LaPointe's father for $125,000. The LaPointes also borrowed $100,000 in cash from a family friend. The family spent all of that money to post bail and to pay for his criminal defense team.

Gideon said the family was trying to shield assets from the victims' families. He and Portland lawyer C. Alan Beagle, who represents the Trott family, asked a judge to place liens on those properties. Justice Thomas Delahanty signed an order of attachment on Sept. 22, finding that the families would more likely than not win their cases against LaPointe.

It is unclear at this point what assets, if any, Robert LaPointe has that could be offered to the families in a settlement. Holbrook declined to comment on LaPointe's assets.

Meg Harvey, a close friend of Groetzinger, said no amount of money will fill the emptiness caused by LaPointe's decisions. But the family members plan to use any settlement money to improve their lives and to make Suzanne Groetzinger proud, Harvey said.

''Money doesn't solve everything, but it will pay for Jordan's college education. It will pay for Blaine to start a construction business and for Alyssa to go back to school,'' Harvey said.

''Those are things that Suzie would want for them,'' she said. ''How proud she would be that the kids would use this money for education and to start a business.''

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