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When rich married couples in Miami break up, you can bet both spouses will make a mad scramble to be the first one who enlists the services of family law attorney Maurice Kutner.
His client roster has included Spanish radio mogul Raúl Alarcón Jr.; local television anchor Eliott Rodriguez; Kerry Whitaker-Townsend, whose ex, Charles Townsend, is president and CEO of Conde Nast Publications; and Cynthia Rodriguez, ex-wife of baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez.
There's no doubt Kutner is one of the best in the business. So when diamond wholesaler Sagit Gottfried decided to divorce her philandering hubby in 2007, she hired the former Army captain. "I trusted him," the Israeli-born Gottfried recalls during a recent interview. "I considered him a father figure."
Now Gottfried is accusing Kutner of malpractice. This past December, she sued him in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claiming he gave consistently bad advice while racking up close to $650,000 in lawyer fees. In her complaint, Gottfried says Kutner coached her to accuse her ex-husband David of physical assault. And the attorney allegedly refused to return a $20,000 Rolex watch given as a temporary retainer.
Her new lawyer, Bob Stok, says Kutner repeatedly advised Gottfried to reject acceptable settlement agreements. One offer would have given her $1.8 million in diamonds and $500,000 in cash. That represented more than half of the marital assets. Gottfried says Kutner told her to reject the offer because he was "the best lawyer in town" and he could get her more money.
When Gottfried and her ex finalized the divorce in July last year, she walked away with only about $300,000. By then, she had fired Kutner. "He played on her sense of betrayal to rack up fees," Stok says, "without regard to her interests."
Kutner flatly denies bilking Gottfried, noting her bill was low compared to those of other clients. "Quite frankly," he says, "she just doesn't want to pay her fees."