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  1. Business

Jill Kelley and her husband file suit against Tampa law firm

Tampa socialite Jill Kelley and her husband have filed a legal malpractice suit against a Tampa firm they say botched a foreclosure case involving an office building they owned.

The suit, filed last week in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, draws attention once again to Jill Kelley, whose complaints about harassing emails led to the 2012 scandal that forced Gen. David Petraeus to resign as CIA director.

The Kelleys' suit seeks damages in excess of $15,000 from the law firm of Melkus Fleming and Gutierrez, which represented them in a foreclosure case filed by Central Bank.

In 2005, the Kelleys under the name of Kelley Land Holdings LLC had purchased a small office building at 300 E. Madison St. in downtown Tampa and later defaulted on a loan from Central. The bank took back the building and sold it in 2011.

According to their current attorney, J. Benton Stewart II, the Kelleys also had borrowed money from SunTrust although that loan does not appear in public records. The suit says the Melkus firm assured them they would be protected from any action by SunTrust but was negligent in failing to include such protection in a settlement agreement.

SunTrust later came after the Kelleys though the suit doesn't say for how much.

"These documents will be attached to the revised complaint,'' Stewart said Wednesday, adding that he filed the bare-bones suit Aug. 6 only because the statute of limitations for legal malpractice cases was about to expire.

No one from the Melkus firm could be reached for comment.

Kelley, who often entertained dignitaries and officers from MacDill Air Force Base, touched off an international furor when she reported to the FBI that she had received stalking emails. They were traced to a biographer who had an affair with Petraeus, causing a scandal that led to his resignation.

The financial woes of Kelley, her doctor husband and her sister Natalie Khawam also became part of the story.

At the time of the Petraeus scandal Regions Bank was foreclosing on the Kelleys' mansion on Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard. Scott Kelley negotiated a $1.76 million loan modification last year.

In April, a document filed in Hillsborough court shows that Scott Kelley and Khawam, an attorney who declared bankruptcy in 2012, agreed to pay $30,000 to the National Collegiate Student Loan Trust 2005-2 to settle a claim over student loan debts. The stipulation does not say who borrowed the money or whether Scott Kelley had co-signed loans for his sister-in-law.

The suit against the Melkus firm is not the first time the Kelleys have accused an attorney of legal malpractice. The couple sued prominent Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen in 2010 over his involvement in an unrelated case, though that was dismissed two years later for lack of prosecution, records show.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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