LEWISTON — The local lawyer who recently won a lawsuit against Cuba on behalf of a Stockton Springs woman says the $21 million judgment is the largest single-plaintiff case of his career.

David Van Dyke, an attorney with the Lewiston-based law offices of Hornblower, Lynch, Rabasco and Van Dyke, said he worked with the plaintiff, Sherry Sullivan, for about two years leading up to the Aug. 10 decision in Waldo County Superior Court.

Sullivan alleged that Cuban officials caused the wrongful death of her pilot father, Geoffrey Sullivan, after he was shot down over Cuba and imprisoned in 1963 while on a covert mission.

Also named in the suit were former President Fidel Castro, President Raul Castro and the Cuban army. Those defendants were dismissed by Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm because it could not be determined whether they received the documents.

The Bangor Daily News reports the Swiss Embassy in Havana served a copy of the suit to the Cuba Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008. Cuba never responded, leading Hjelm to issue his default judgment.

“This is a large judgment for Maine,” Van Dyke said, adding that Sullivan was referred to him because of his experience with international law. “We fully expect every penny to be collected.”

Van Dyke said there are several ways to recover the settlement, one being to freeze Cuban assets held by the United States. International counsel from two countries that do trade with Cuba have also been retained by Van Dyke’s firm, in another move to aid with collections.

“Cuba has relations with Canada and other countries and there’s money flowing back and forth that can be secured,” he said. He declined to name the two countries. Van Dyke also declined to share specifics on how much his law firm would earn for its work on behalf of Sullivan.

“This was a larger than standard contingency agreement, based on the difficulty of reaching a judgment,” he said. “If you want quality counsel, you have to pay a premium.”

Nationwide, similar cases have been judged in the past and others are being pursued, Van Dyke said.

Due to federal legislation passed in 1996 addressing state-sponsored terrorism, state and federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction over such cases. Van Dyke said he chose to try the matter in the state court because “local law is good law.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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