If Law & Order ever wants to give a civil dispute its "ripped-from-the-headlines" treatment, this case is an excellent contender.
Adam Anhang Uster was murdered in September 2005 while leaving a restaurant with his wife of six months, Áurea Vázquez-Rijos. In March 2006, Vázquez sued Adam's parents, Abraham and Barbara Anhang, in Puerto Rico Superior Court, alleging that the Anhangs had assumed control of Adam's estate and had prevented her from accessing the assets therein.
Vázquez claimed that she was entitled to a portion of the estate under the terms of her prenuptial agreement, as well as the provisions of the Puerto Rico Civil Code governing usufruct and community property. She also sought damages from the Anhangs for the harm caused by their “obstinate attitude and disregard of [her] physical and emotional condition and financial situation.”
Right about now, you may feel bad for Vázquez. She was a newlywed who witnessed her husband’s murder, and she was shunned by her in-laws. The shunning part, however, may have something to do with the fact that Vázquez was suspected of paying the murderer, Alex Pabón Colón, $3 million in a murder-for-hire scheme.
Cue the Law & Order clangs.
Vázquez’s case was dismissed with extreme prejudice in May 2009 for disobedience of court orders, extreme protracted delay, and ignorance of dismissal warnings. Vázquez appealed, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the action, but the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.
While Vázquez was unsuccessful in her alleged multifaceted grave-digging/gold-digging venture, her case is still full of teachable moments. If you’re representing a possible murder-for-hire defendant who is suing her in-laws to collect on the murdered spouse’s sizable estate, here’s what you can learn from her mistakes:
- Don’t expect the court’s sympathy, Puerto Rican law disqualifies a person who has been sentenced for making attempts against the life of a testator from inheriting under his will.
- Don’t argue that it is unreasonable for your client to appear for a deposition at which she would be asked questions related to an on-going murder investigation.
- Don’t tell the court that your client cannot appear due to a high-risk pregnancy, and then support the claim with un-translated Italian medical certificates.
- Don’t invoke the Italian government’s non-extradition policy as your client’s reason to avoid appearing in the lawsuit that she herself filed.
Dismissal with extreme prejudice can tarnish your otherwise-stellar trial record. Follow these tips and avoid the embarrassment.
Cue the music, last time.
- Usufruct (FindLaw Dictionary)
- FindLaw’s First Circuit blog (FindLaw)
- LA Dodgers are Community Property, Jamie McCourt Co-Owns Team (FindLaw’s Tarnished Twenty)