Philadelphia woman files legal malpractice suit against former attorney

By Jon Campisi | May 24, 2011

A Brookhaven, Pa. woman has filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against a former attorney of hers who she alleges offered bad legal advice that ended up costing her time in jail and out-of-pocket expenses.

Philadelphia attorney Edwin Smith, of the firm Edwin P. Smith & Associates, filed the civil complaint May 18 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Natalie Ortiga.

According to the complaint, Ortiga retained the services of the defendant, Media lawyer Robert E. O’Connor, in January 2007 to represent her in a custody dispute involving her grandson.

The following month, the suit states, Ortiga was given visitation rights by the Delaware County, Pa. Court of Common Pleas. The visitation rights were registered in Virginia, where Ortiga’s grandson lives.

Ortiga paid O’Connor $12,000 for his legal services in helping her obtain the visitation rights, the lawsuit states.

Then, in October 2010, Ortiga received a call from her grandson, who stated he was in “severe distress,” the complaint says. Ortiga contacted O’Connor to ask him his legal advice on how to best protect her grandson. The defendant instructed Ortiga to travel to Virginia and take custody of her grandson, and take him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Ortiga was unaware that her actions caused an “Amber Alert” to be issued by authorities in Virginia, the lawsuit states. Therefore, while attending to her grandson at CHOP, Ortiga was arrested by Philadelphia police, where she was incarcerated for more than 36 hours.

After making bail, Ortiga was required to turn herself over to Virginia law enforcement, the suit states, and thus began a lengthy legal process fighting the criminal charges that had been lodged against her in that commonwealth.

All charges were eventually dismissed against Ortiga, but not before she had to expend vast sums of money for legal costs, and time traveling back and forth to Virginia, the suit states.

The complaint accuses O’Connor of failing to tell Ortiga he was unfamiliar with the laws of Virginia; failing to tell the plaintiff that taking her grandson from Virginia was in violation of that state’s laws; failing to tell Ortiga that her actions could land her in jail; and failing to tell her that taking her grandson into her home state was also a violation of Pennsylvania law.

Ortiga is now in the process of seeking the expungement of all her criminal records in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The suit says Ortiga has incurred various legal costs, travel costs and pet-care costs, all as a result of the incident in question.

Furthermore, “plaintiff has experienced severe emotional pain, suffering and embarrassment as a result of her arrest and incarcerations,” the suit states.

Ortiga is seeking judgment against the defendant in a sum in excess of $50,000.

There is also a loss of consortium count in the lawsuit filed on behalf of the plaintiff’s spouse, Anthony Ortiga, Sr., who also seeks a judgment in excess of $50,000.

The plaintiff has requested a jury trial.

The case number is 110502077.

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