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Surgeon sues lawyers in libel case


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2000

NEW PORT RICHEY -- In 1997, a judge dismissed Dr. Alfred O. Bonati's $100-million libel lawsuit against the St. Petersburg Times because the physician's lawyers failed to file court papers for more than a year.

Now, Bonati is suing those lawyers, claiming they botched the case by letting it languish, even though the physician had paid them more than $100,000 in legal fees and expenses.

Bonati, a Hudson physician, is asking for damages against New York lawyer Jonathan W. Lubell and his law firm of Morrison, Cohen, Singer & Weinstein, along with Tampa lawyer Paul B. Johnson, whom the firm retained as its local attorney.

In his 1992 suit, Bonati claimed a Times article and an editorial maliciously discredited him, portrayed him as incompetent and greedy, cost him patients and income, and caused him to be "held up to ridicule and contempt."

But for more than a year starting in September 1996, Bonati's lawyers failed to file a single record or motion, prompting Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray Jr. to toss out the case, citing inactivity. The 2nd District Court of Appeal in 1998 upheld Bray's action.

Cathy S. Reiman, the Naples lawyer representing Bonati in the suit against his former lawyers, on Friday told the Times that the amount of damages requested had not yet been determined. The suit, filed in April, requests the lost value of the claims against the Times and legal fees.

Lubell, who represented the Church of Scientology in an unsuccessful libel suit against Time magazine, held himself up as a libel specialist but failed to supply competent representation, the lawsuit alleges.

Calls to Bonati, Johnson and Lubell were not immediately returned Friday.

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