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Phony sunken treasure puts law firm in danger

Fake emeralds


By Maureen Milford - Delaware Online

A Florida federal judge has asked a Wilmington lawyer and his prominent law firm to explain why he shouldn't sanction them for bad faith litigation in connection with their conduct in a bogus sunken treasure case.

U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King of the Southern District of Florida said sufficient evidence was presented to require the issuance of the show cause order directed at Wilmington attorney Bruce Silverstein and Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor.

King directed a U.S. marshal to serve his show cause order, which also names another party in Hawaii, on Silverstein and James L. Patton Jr., chairman of Young Conaway on Rodney Square.

The order is the result of a long-running federal case that reads like an adventure novel.

The plot features a novice treasure hunter claiming he found thousands of emeralds on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles from Key West, Florida. Some speculated the stones could be pirate's booty from a 16th or 17th century ship or from a Spanish galleon.

"There was so many of them it was like picking cherries on a cherry tree," said the late treasure hunter Jay Miscovich, who in October put a 12-gauge shotgun to his head, pulling the trigger and killing himself.

Then, in a Perry Mason moment in a Florida courtroom in January, a Jupiter, Florida, jewelry store owner stunned the courtroom by revealing the emeralds were purchased from him for about $80,000. This followed test results that showed the stones were coated with epoxy to enhance them.

Young Conaway represented Miscovich's treasure-hunting company, JTR Enterprises LLC, a Delaware company created to hold the title to the emeralds and the exact, secret location of the discovery site.

The law firm had a right to a percentage of the emeralds and anything recovered by Miscovich, according to an affidavit filed by Silverstein.

If King sanctions Silverstein and Young Conaway, they could be prohibited from practicing in the federal Southern District of Florida. King could also enter a substantial monetary judgment or grant other relief that he thinks is proper.

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