(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., reappointed a legal guardian in the case of a Maryland architect who has battled her lawyer for seven years in a copyright lawsuit involving the United Arab Emirates embassy.
Elena Sturdza sued the United Arab Emirates in 1998, claiming the federation ripped off her contest entry architectural design for its embassy in Washington, D.C. After Sturdza lost in district court, she hired attorney Nathan Lewin, who helped her win on appeal. Then, in 2002, Lewin challenged Sturdza’s ability to make rational decisions about the case, saying she was “not able to act in her own interest,” and moved for appointment of a guardian.
Sturdza repeatedly claimed that Lewin “fabricates” things and was sabotaging her case. Lewin said Sturdza was trying to dismiss him in order to claim a contingency fee and reap the benefit of all the legal services he already performed.
Lewin claimed that the case was destroyed by Sturdza’s inability to be rational, and wanted her to undergo psychological examination. She was court-ordered to undergo a mental health examination in August 2003, but she refused to set up an appointment. The district court then granted the move for appointment of a guardian.
But the D.C. Circuit overturned the lower court’s decision, saying Sturdza was not afforded due process. The federal appeals court found that Sturdza had not been given “notice and an opportunity to be heard” before the appointment of a guardian, so it vacated the appointment and remanded the case, saying Sturdza had the right to avoid the “stigma of being found incompetent” and should be given a chance to convince the court that she did not need a guardian.
At the hearing on the guardian appointment, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. said Sturdza “spoke for over an hour. While lengthy, very little of what she said was new. Contrary to the finding of the D.C. Circuit regarding the matter, this court has ‘heard’ Sturdza.”
After the hearing, Kennedy supported the guardian appointment, saying Sturdza is “irrational” and qualifies as an “incompetent person.” Looking at the whole record of this “unusual and complicated case,” Kennedy wrote, including three oral presentations made by Sturdza in court, the district court was firm on its appointment of a guardian and issued a court order naming Martin Baach to the position.
According to Kennedy, Sturdza thought everyone involved in the case was trying to block her from recovering her due from being stripped of an “opportunity of a lifetime.” Had she been given credit for her embassy design, she believes she would have “everything that a designer wishes in the world.” She also thinks the court and lawyers are worried that if she wins the case, it will “sour” relations between the UAE and United States, the judge noted.
Kennedy urged the D.C. Circuit to resolve the seven-year dispute if it is appealed.