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Crime writer Cornwell has own courtroom drama

BOSTON (AP) — For more than two decades, crime writer Patricia Cornwell has famously dramatized the life of a fictional medical examiner in her best-selling books. Now, she has her own personal drama unfolding in federal court.

Cornwell, a wildly successful author through her novels about Dr. Kay Scarpetta, is suing her former financial management firm and business manager for negligence and breach of contract, claiming they cost her and her company millions in investment losses and unaccounted for revenues during their 4½-year relationship.

The Boston trial has opened a window into the life of the intensely private Cornwell, who has had to listen from the front row of the courtroom while a lawyer for the management firm described her spending habits for the jury: $40,000 a month for an apartment in New York City, $5 million for a private jet service, $11 million to buy properties in Concord, Mass.

Cornwell’s spouse, Staci Gruber, a neuroscientist who is an assistant psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, spent much of the first week of the trial on the witness stand testifying about the couple’s relationship with Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, a New York accounting and wealth management firm, and Evan Snapper, a former principal in the firm.

Cornwell fired the firm after discovering in July 2009 that the net worth of her and her company, despite having eight-figure earnings per year during the previous four years, was a little under $13 million, the equivalent of only one year’s net income. She also claims in the lawsuit that Anchin had borrowed several million dollars, including mortgages for property and a loan for the purchase of a helicopter, and had lost millions by moving her from a conservative investment strategy to high-risk without her permission.

Cornwell, 56, says problems caused by Anchin and Snapper were so distracting that they caused her to miss a book deadline for the first time in her career and cost her $15 million in non-recoverable advances and commissions.

Lawyers for Anchin and Snapper deny Cornwell’s claims. During opening statements at the trial, attorney James Campbell described Cornwell as “a demanding client” who “tends to push off responsibility and assign blame when things go off track.”

“I do what I do when and how I do it,” she allegedly wrote in an email to Snapper read by Campbell to the jury.

Anchin and Snapper claim there is no money missing from Cornwell’s accounts, that any investment losses were caused by the financial and housing crisis at the time, and that the fees they charged her were reasonable for the services they provided, including everything from business management to bringing Cornwell’s clothes to the tailor to arranging care for her mother.

The Boston trial is expected to last about a month.

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