PITTSBURGH – A financial industry regulatory board has found Wheeling attorney Jim Bordas liable for defamation of a Wells Fargo financial adviser, but also awarded him almost $100,000 as a result of his complaint against the broker.
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel of arbitrators decided in November that Wells Fargo and Ernest Coffindaffer are jointly and severally liable for an award of $97,250 to Bordas and wife Linda, founders of the personal injury firm Bordas & Bordas.
The defamation award to Coffindaffer was only $1,000. Coffindaffer’s other counterclaims were dismissed, though he was granted expungement of the allegations from his registration records.
“(T)he panel believes that Coffindaffer’s conduct was not so egregious as to warrant a permanent stigma on his CRD,” the decision says. “Claimants had the opportunity to review confirmations and monthly statements and did not, and continued to hold the investments in question for a significant period of time without complaint.
“Based on the uncontroverted opinion of the Respondents’ expert, David Paulukaitis, as well as the oral testimony of the witnesses and the documentary evidence, the panel found no investment-related sales practice violation, forgery, theft, misappropriation, or conversion of funds.”
The issue started when the Bordases claimed Coffindaffer mismanaged their personal investment accounts from 2003-07. They said Coffindaffer made various purchases of bonds and annuities without their authorizations.
Coffindaffer also made misrepresentations about various bonds and funds and forged documents, they claimed.
In response, Coffindaffer filed counterclaims against the Bordases, alleging they attempted to convince other Wells Fargo clients to file lawsuits against him and/or Wells Fargo.
Coffindaffer and Wells Fargo claimed his reputation in the community was “gravely and irreparably harmed” and that the Bordases’ actions cost the company current and prospective clients with assets worth millions of dollars.
The counterclaims included defamation, tortious interference with business relationships and tortious interference with prospective business relationships. Coffindaffer and Wells Fargo sought $10 million, later reduced to more than $2.4 million.
The FINRA panel did not list its reasoning behind the $1,000 defamation award against Bordas or the $97,250 award in favor of the Bordases.
It also recommended the expungement of the allegations made against Coffindaffer in his registration records maintained by the Central Registration Depository. A court of competent jurisdiction must confirm the expungement before it can be executed.
A related case brought by Chartis Property Casualty Company against the Bordases was voluntarily dismissed after the FINRA decision. It sought an order stating Chartis had no duty to defend the Bordases against the claims made by Wells Fargo and Coffindaffer.
The Bordases had sought coverage from Chartis for defense of and indemnification for the counterclaims.