Author Cornwell takes stand at negligence trial

BOSTON (AP) — Crime writer Patricia Cornwell is the first to admit she is easily distracted by noise and finds it nearly impossible to write when she is interrupted.

So when renovation work at her house in Concord dragged on, Cornwell missed a book deadline for the first time in her career.

The failure to find her a suitable place to write is among the claims Cornwell makes in a lawsuit against her former financial management firm and business manager. When Cornwell took the witness stand Thursday in her lawsuit against Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, a New York accounting and wealth management firm, and former principal Evan Snapper, she offered a glimpse into her writing process and the problems she says were caused by the firm. She said a series of apartments and other properties rented by the firm all had noise, construction or privacy issues.

She said the stress and distractions from repeatedly moving caused her to miss her deadline in 2006. The missed deadline caused her to lose one year’s income, about $15 million in non-recoverable advances and commissions, the lawsuit claims.

“This was very destabilizing. I really lost my ability to focus and concentrate. I did not know what the book was about anymore,” Cornwell said. “I was just lost. I was adrift. I was extremely stressed.”

Cornwell, 56, also said Anchin moved her from a conservative to an aggressive investment strategy without her permission.

Cornwell, known for her best-selling series of books dramatizing the life of fictional medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, spent nearly four hours on the witness stand, describing a turbulent childhood that included her mother being hospitalized for depression and Cornwell and her brothers being sent to live in a foster home. She also described her early years after college working as a police reporter and at the medical examiner’s office in Richmond, Va.

“This is what introduced me to the whole world of forensic science and forensic medicine,” Cornwell said.

She said she began writing novels while still working at the medical examiner’s office. Her first novel, “Post Mortem” earned her just $6,000, but within a few years she had a $3 million contract to write two books.

She said her sudden success was exciting, but also overwhelming.

“I found very quickly I could not manage what was going on,” she said.

She said she found that “the business of writing took away from the art of it,” so she hired financial managers.

Her relationship with Anchin begain in 2004. Cornwell says in her lawsuit that Anchin agreed to manage all her money and the assets of her company, Cornwell Entertainment Inc.

Cornwell said she fired Anchin after discovering in July 2009 that her net worth was a little under $13 million, despite having eight-figure earnings in each of the previous four years. The lawsuit alleges negligence and breach of contract, claiming that Snapper and the firm cost Cornwell and her company millions in investment losses and unaccounted for revenues during their 4 1/2-year relationship.

Lawyers for Anchin and Snapper deny Cornwell’s claims. They claim there is no money missing from Cornwell’s accounts and that any investment losses were caused by the financial and housing crises at the time. They also claim her net worth was diminished because of her extravagant spending habits, including Ferraris, helicopters and one apartment rental in New York City that cost $40,000 per month.

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.” Anchin’s lawyers said the firm did everything from business management to bringing Cornwell’s clothes to the tailor to arranging care for her mother.

Cornwell, who has lived in the Boston area for the last six years, is married to Staci Gruber, a neuroscientist and assistant psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.

Cornwell is expected to be questioned Friday by Anchin’s lawyer.

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