Widow, team of lawyers take on Wells Fargo in court

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Attorney Robert Stone and Claudia McDonald stand in front of the Williamsburg-James City County courthouse Monday afternoon after their case was continued to March 27.
Attorney Robert Stone and Claudia McDonald stand in front of the Williamsburg-James City County courthouse Monday afternoon after their case was continued to March 27. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

Armed with two attorneys and a no-nonsense attitude, Claudia McDonald is not backing down as she goes head-to-head with banking giant Wells Fargo.

Claudia McDonald appeared in the Williamsburg-James City County General District Court Monday afternoon, requesting a judge reopen the case her late husband, Pete, filed against Wells Fargo last September.

The widow is asking Wells Fargo to pay back a $4,400 check that was fraudulently cashed in December 2014 after the couple put a hold on the bank account. The check is one of 117 stolen checks cashed by their housekeeper, Dana Morris, 42, totaling about $558,600.

Morris was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Jan. 18 in connection to the case, but Claudia McDonald is still seeking justice.

The hearing Monday revolved around a motion to reopen the case filed by Pete McDonald last November, after he mistakenly missed a court hearing, resulting in the case’s dismissal, according to court documents. The motion to reopen states Pete McDonald “thought [the] case was settled and [the] check never was sent to me.”

Claudia McDonald and Florida attorney and longtime family friend Robert Stone flew to Virginia for the hearing Monday, equipped with an argument for why the case should be reopened and heard by a judge.

While Claudia McDonald faced complications with her Florida-based attorney representing her in Virginia, Judge Colleen Killilea agreed Monday to continue the case long enough for a Williamsburg lawyer to prepare to argue her case.

“I’m going to continue the legal pursuit against the system that took my husband down,” Claudia McDonald said.

Because Claudia McDonald’s attorney, Florida-based lawyer Robert Stone, is licensed by the Florida Bar organization, he must be “sponsored” by a licensed Virginia lawyer to represent Claudia McDonald in the Wells Fargo case, he said.

Attorney Michael Heikes, of Williamsburg, agreed to sponsor Stone, but also told Killilea he would be prepared to argue the case for Claudia McDonald if Stone’s application had not been processed by the next hearing date, March 27.

Pete and Claudia McDonald pose in an undated photo taken during dinner on the Carnival Glory cruise ship. (Courtesy Claudia McDonald)

Killilea said in court she doubted Stone’s application would be approved in time for the next hearing. Stone said the application had been filed several days before Monday’s hearing.

The attorney representing Wells Fargo, Brett Herbert, declined to comment on the case.

Before the court hearing, Claudia McDonald and Stone shared stories about Pete McDonald over lunch. Stone described Pete McDonald as a “smart guy” who had his own way of doing things.

Stone has been practicing law for 53 years and has served in many positions in Florida, including as Florida State Attorney for four terms, legislative representative for the state prosecuting attorney’s association, legal advisor for three statewide grand juries, chair of Governor Bob Graham and Governor Reubin Askew’s organized crime council and president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Stone said he was also one of the prosecutors who indicted Pablo Escobar in Florida and has prosecuted several serial killer cases.

Claudia McDonald said she also intends to take legal action against Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, rehabilitation center Woodhaven Hall at Williamsburg Landing and the doctor at Riverside who approved her husband’s transfer to Woodhaven.

Pete McDonald died unexpectedly after sustaining a head injury from a fall in January. He had recently been transferred from the hospital to the rehabilitation facility before he passed away, she said.

“He died from a lack of care, not from his age,” Claudia McDonald said.

Claudia McDonald plans to pursue three other checks — all under $5,000 — in small claims court, she said. Lawsuits for the other three checks have not yet been filed, according to court records.

Fearing can be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.