Taking Stock: Broker who lost money deserves to be sued

Malcolm Berko:
Published: October 28, 2012
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Dear Mr. Berko: When my dad passed away in early 2008, he left his two teenage grandchildren (our children) more than $420,000 in blue chip stocks, including AT&T, IBM, Procter & Gamble, Southern Co., Pfizer, Consolidated Edison, Morgan Stanley and ConocoPhillips, to name a few. Dad's lawyer settled the estate, and seeing as we knew nothing about stocks and bonds, he recommended a stockbroker, who he said is the best there is and can help us with these stocks. We met with this broker, who owns his own firm. He is fee-based; he only charges 2.5 percent of the market value annually plus $9 commission per trade, which we thought was very low compared with the $50 to $125 per trade we paid when the account was at JPMorgan Chase. We liked him very much, so we had our lawyer move Dad's stocks to our new broker in the winter of 2008.

I've sent you copies of the consolidated year-end statements, and as you can see, our children's $420,000 is now worth $276,000, and we are devastated. We wish we had taken your advice four years ago when you told us to stay with JPMorgan Chase. Is there any way we could fix this quickly? We don't want to tell our children what happened just yet. We spoke to the lawyer about this, and he said he wants to sue this broker for us. He believes he can recover all we lost plus damages. He wants us to pay him upfront expenses of $25,000, which he said we'd get back from the proceeds of the settlement. My husband doesn't want to use this lawyer, because he's the man who recommended the broker. However, I do because that lawyer recommended this broker and knows him, and I think he feels responsible and would do a better job to get this money back. My husband has contacted another lawyer, but the second lawyer refuses to take sides. So we decided to ask you for advice. By the way, the second lawyer says that his son graduated from medical school with your son and that he met you at the graduation ceremonies.

CS, Indianapolis

Dear CS: As I remember telling you four years ago: “Stay the course, because you don't need any help with stocks such as AT&T, Apple, Southern, DuPont, Procter & Gamble, IBM and ConocoPhillips.” And I advise you to tell your two teenagers what happened ASAP. They have a right to know and perhaps a right to participate in your decision. And according to some legal precedents, your children may also have grounds to sue you! Now, I don't remember meeting lawyer No. 2, but I applaud his decision to refrain from telling nasty things about lawyer No. 1. But I think I know attorneys like lawyer No. 1, the slick blackguard who wants you to fork up $25,000 for expenses and costs. His cash demand is obscene, vulgar and humiliating. When I was in grade school in the late 1940s, there were two kids who opened a lemonade stand at a busy business intersection near our home in Cleveland. One of the boys, a cherubic-faced kid, was offering a free glass of lemonade to passers-by, while the second, a grim-faced lad with mean eyes, was offering refills for $5 a glass containing the antidote. I think the grim-faced lad could be lawyer No. 1.



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