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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

House-Burner Sues Ex-Boss and Attorney

PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) - A man who burned his boss's house down has sued his attorney for malpractice. He also sued his former boss, who he says asked him to set the condemned house on fire. "Plaintiff agreed. Plaintiff was arrested." Then, the unfortunate fellow says, his ex-boss conspired with the attorney to keep himself out of jail.

Wendell N. Ross sued his attorney, Joyce Rosenthal, and the man who was his boss for 18 years, Marc Hesse, in Oakland County Court.

Ross claims that the attorney rejected an offer of probation for him to keep him from testifying against his boss, causing him to be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

Ross says he worked for Hesse as a roofer for nearly 20 years, and that last year Hesse asked him to burn down his condemned house to prevent the mother of his three children from moving back in.

Ross says he started the fire with a cigarette in the basement, which was full of fumes. He says he was then arrested by state troopers who had been investigating his empty vehicle and saw him running from the house just before it exploded. "Plaintiff fled from the burning house," the complaint states. "Some of his hair was singed." The troopers saw all this and "they ordered him to the ground."

Ross claims he contacted Hesse, "who informed him that he would take care of him." He says Hesse hired his own lawyer, Joyce Rosenthal, to represent Ross, and that her first priority was to keep Hesse out of trouble.

He claims that during the legal proceedings, he overheard the prosecuting attorney, Gregory Townsend, make an offer of "only probation" to Rosenthal. "As defendant Rosenthal walked away and approached plaintiff, he heard the prosecuting attorney say, 'I would not object to only probation,'" according to the complaint.

It continues: "Defendant Rosenthal then stated to plaintiff, 'He offered a deal but Marc would burn, so we don't want to do that. They're not going to find you guilty anyways. We're going to beat this case.' She never told plaintiff what the offer was. She never told plaintiff the difference in the sentencing guidelines." She never told him many other things that deeply concerned him, according to the complaint.

The allegations continue: "As the trial approached, the prosecuting attorney made another offer for a plea. Defendant Rosenthal never communicated that to plaintiff. Dependant Rosenthal also never informed plaintiff of the evidence against him. She never told him that a sample of his clothing tested positive for an accelerant. She told him that the worst scenario was probation. Defendant Rosenthal only told plaintiff that there was no evidence against him."

He claims Rosenthal "never informed plaintiff or the trial court that a conduct existed" because she was also representing Hesse "in other matters." And he says that "Defendant Hesse met frequently with defendant Rosenthal regarding plaintiff's case. Defendant Hesse was paying defendant Rosenthal and directing her representation of plaintiff."

He says she never revealed the full plea bargain, in which "Mr. Townsend offered a plea in exchange for testimony against defendant Hesse."

Ross went to trial and "based on overwhelming evidence, the jury convicted" him. "He was sentenced to 2 to 40 years imprisonment."

Ross says he got a new attorney, who secured him a new trial because he had been denied effective assistance of counsel. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to 1 year in the county jail, with work release.Ross seeks damages from Hesse and Rosenthal for legal malpractice, civil conspiracy and fraud. He is represented by Robert Fetter with Miller Chen of Detroit

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