(CN) – A former Miss USA contestant says her lawyer advised her to blow off an arbitration process that ended with her being fined $5 million for claiming the pageant was “trashy” and “rigged.”
Sheena Monnin sued Richard Klineburger III and his firm, Klineburger & Nussey, in Camden County Superior Court on Thursday, blaming the arbitrator’s binding judgment on their “inept representation.”
The beauty contestant says Klineburger pitched his services to her in June 2012, amid a media firestorm over comments she made about that year’s Miss USA pageant.
Monnin had claimed that after she was eliminated from the semifinals, another contestant, Miss Florida Karina Brez, told her backstage that she’d seen a list of the five Miss USA finalists and knew who would win.
Brez correctly predicted the finalists and winner, according to the lawsuit.
Monnin said she resigned as Miss Pennsylvania the following morning, explaining on her Facebook page: “In good conscience I can no longer be affiliated in any way with an organization I consider to be fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy.”
On June 5, she posted another Facebook message explaining why she believed the show was rigged.
“I witnessed another contestant who said she saw the Top 5 BEFORE THE SHOW EVER STARTED proceed to call out in order who the Top 5 were before they were announced on stage,” she wrote, according to her lawsuit.
She later added: “I believe her words and I will not encourage anyone to compete in a system that in my opinion and from what I witnessed was dishonest.”
Donald Trump, the pageant’s co-owner, denied the rigging accusation on “Good Morning America,” claiming Monnin suffered from “loser’s remorse,” according to the complaint. Monnin says Trump stated that if you “looked at her and compared her to the other people who were in the top 15, you would understand why she was not in the top 15.”
Monnin says lawyers for Miss Universe L.P. threatened to sue for “massive damages” if she didn’t retract her statements immediately.
Miss Florida apparently backed down, according to Monnin: First she claimed she couldn’t remember the backstage conversation and then insisted she was only “joking” about the list. Monnin says she was forced to defend herself in an interview on the “Today Show.”
As media coverage mounted, Klineburger sent the beleaguered beauty queen an unsolicited Facebook message offering his legal services, Monnin says.
She claims she hired him on June 26 — the same day she discovered that the pageant wanted her to pay $10 million for allegedly defaming it.
Though Klineburger originally offered to represent her free of charge, he eventually took her case for a third of anything she recovered from Trump and the pageant organization.
The former Miss Pennsylvania says Klineburger’s legal advice was “negligent and reckless.”
For starters, she says, he never reviewed a copy of the Miss Universe contract she’d signed, which states that any disputes are subject to binding arbitration in New York.
Despite this, Klineburger allegedly urged her not to participate in any arbitration proceedings.
“Klineburger continued to reassure Monnin that she did not need to respond to any of [the arbitrator’s] correspondence, that she was not subject to any arbitration agreement with Miss Universe, and that she need not participate in any arbitration proceeding,” the lawsuit states.
As a result, Monnin missed the arbitration hearing on Nov. 5, 2012.
She says she believed the arbitration had been withdrawn, and her father even wrote to thank Klineburger for the victory.
When Klineburger found out about the $5 million judgment, he “disavowed his representation of Monnin,” according to the lawsuit. He then wrote her a letter stating that he was not licensed to practice law in New York: “Therefore, I cannot give you advice on this arbitration matter,” he allegedly wrote.
On July 2, U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in the Southern District of New York confirmed the arbitration award and issued a judgment against Monnin.
Monnin seeks unspecified damages against Klineburger for legal malpractice and says his firm is vicariously liable.
She is represented by Donald Ottaunick of Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard P.A.
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