Founding Family of Dairy Company Settles Part of Lawsuit Against Lawyers
An Irvine-based law firm and a Long Beach attorney Monday settled their legal disputes with the Stueve family, which started the Alta-Dena Dairy, on the eve of a trial alleging the lawyers were involved in a scheme to drain the family of the milk company’s fortune.
The Irvine-based Berger Kahn law firm and attorney Raymond A. Novell settled with the Stueve family with terms kept private. That leaves only the Buchalter law firm, which has offices in Irvine, remaining in the suit.
Opening statements in the trial, which were expected Monday, were rescheduled for next Monday.
The Stueve family claims that longtime attorney and family friend Novell teamed up an estate planning attorney Jay Wayne Allen to, as a 2013 appellate court ruling put it, “drain off the family assets through a Pandora’s box of actionable wrongs.”
Novell declined to comment on the settlement.
Attorney Alan Greenberg, who represents Buchalter, said, “Buchalter conducted itself properly at all times. The firm never should have been sued.”
Berger Khan was sued because Allen worked there during the alleged pilfering and the Stueves accused Berger Khan of turning a blind eye to it.
Novell and Allen are accused of persuading the Stueves that taxes would swallow their family fortune so they needed to set up multiple trusts with Novell as trustee. With Novell in charge of the family fortune, he was accused of borrowing millions from the trust without repaying any of it, and Allen was also accused of taking money from the fund with the family knowing it.
After working at Berger Khan, Allen went to work at Buchalter in June 2007. The law firms were accused of negligent hiring, breach of fiduciary duty and racketeering in the lawsuit.
The Stueves sued in 2010 and the case has been brewing since then with multiple appeals working in favor of the family when their litigation was dismissed on the trial level.
The family “won four consecutive appeals prior to trial court judgment,” their attorney, Robert Barnes, said.
The family is seeking $100 million in damages.
The Stueves sold the Alta-Dena Dairy to Dean Foods in 1999.
Since the family’s financial stumble, prompting the lawsuit, they have recovered, Barnes said.
The Stueves have “mostly rebounded,” but, “there’s still $100 million of their money that should be in the bank,” Barnes said.
They still run Stueve Farms, which now mostly focus on almonds, Barnes said.
The Stueves were pleaded to reach settlements with Novell and Berger Khan, Barnes said.
“They’re glad to see people stepping up to accept responsibility,” Barnes said. “But with Buchalter it will require a jury decision for them to accept responsibility.”