Saturday, March 10, 2018
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board proposes disbarment for an attorney's fraudulent efforts to secure ownership of three properties
In the charges, ODC alleges that the Respondent violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3(a) and (d) and 8.4(c) when he engaged in three transactions between 1999 and 2001 in which he sought to obtain the ownership of St. Tammany properties belonging to absentee owners without a credible factual or legal basis for doing so.
The hearing committee had found misconduct and proposed a deferred six-month suspension.
The legal setting
A brief review of certain tenants of Louisiana property law and a description of the procedures employed by Respondent is helpful in understanding the facts of and issues presented in this matter. The Louisiana Civil Code recognizes several methods for acquiring ownership of immovable property, including possession of property for either 10 or 30 years, depending on the circumstances. La. Civ. Code arts. 3473-3488. Respondent freely admits that he did not own the properties at issue and had no claim to title. Therefore, under La. Civ. Code art. 3486 et seq., he would be required to possess the property for 30 years before acquiring ownership of the property. Respondent, however, believes he has found a way, under an article of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, to acquire property based on possession of only one year.
He filed declaratory judgment actions against the absentee owners
The quitclaim deeds each contained the forged signature of Respondent' s corporate partner, Timothy Dunaway, and were signed by the Respondent himself without Mr. Dunaway's prior knowledge and consent. Mr. Dunaway's putative signature was also accompanied by an attestation clause falsely certifying Mr. Dunaway's signature to be genuine and appropriately witnessed and notarized, none of which was true, as Respondent has admitted. By making false statements of fact to the court in his testimony in the Magee v. Nill and Magee v. Wantz matters concerning the quitclaim deeds, submitting the false quitclaim deed into the record in the Magee v. Nill matter, and filing the petitions for declaratory judgment which referenced the false quitclaim deeds into the records of the Magee v. Nill, Magee v. Wantz, and Magee v. Hymel and Turnbull matters, the Respondent violated Rules 3.3(a)(l) and (a)(3).
There was significant harm to the owners
Here, the Respondent has violated duties owed to the legal system, the public, and the profession. His actions were intentional. The amount of actual injury caused by the Respondent's misconduct was great. Lloyd and Nicole Martin (subsequent owners of one of the lots of the Nill property) suffered extensive financial harm and emotional anguish after a scheduled April 2008 closing on their Abita Springs home fell through. Unable to sell their home due to the title defect concerning their home and facing financial difficulties, they were forced into default of their existing mortgage and were unable to sell their home until 2015. This sale was a short sale, which required them to assume an additional $10,000 in indebtedness which they are currently paying down. The Martins sued their title insurer, who was able to locate the Nill heirs and obtain quitclaim deeds in favor of the Martins. Respondent was ordered to reimburse the title insurer for the cost of obtaining the quitclaim deeds which cleared the cloud on title. (See Exh. ODC 7 A, order denying Respondent's motion for summary judgment and recognizing that the quitclaim deed and two judgments created clouds on the title rendering the Martin's title unmerchantable; and Exh. ODC 7B, Judgment dismissing the Martins' claim because the title insurer cured the defect and ordering Respondent to reimburse the title insurer the expense of obtaining the quitclaim deeds).
Mr. and Mrs. Lampo's (subsequent owners ofthe Wantz property) efforts to refinance their home were delayed for three years because of the title defect associated with their home. Ms. Robinson (subsequent owner of another section of the Nill property) suffered harm when she, along with the Lampos and the Martins, were sued by the Respondent for defamation, an act of retaliation for their prior civil RICO suit brought against the Respondent for damages.
A bad attitude never helps
Later, the Respondent inflicted more indignity upon the complainants when he convened a meeting with these complainants at the Abita Brew Pub in 2015. At this meeting, he sought to persuade them to dismiss their disciplinary complaints brought against him in return for his dismissal of his defamation action. The Respondent behaved arrogantly, dismissive of the misfortunes the complainants had endured because of his misdeeds. He ridiculed the complainants as "losers" at the meeting, making a "L" sign on his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. Ultimately, the Respondent's attempt to obtain a dismissal of the disciplinary complaints was unsuccessful. Respondent's conduct was publicized through news articles in the newspaper and online in ways that reflected negatively on the profession.
Here, Respondent filed false documents into the public records of St. Tammany Parish. He also submitted false documents and testimony to the courts when he filed or referenced the quitclaims at issue in the declaratory judgment proceedings discussed in this matter. Further, Respondent's testimony concerning these quitclaims was misleading. He also brought a harassing defamation action against the complainants in this matter after they filed a civil RICO lawsuit against him. Such misconduct is similar to that found in Harris, Pinkston and Simpson and falls squarely within ABA Standard 6.11. As such, this misconduct warrants a sanction ranging from disbarment to permanent disbarment. Because of the mitigating factors present, particularly the lack of prior discipline, the Board recommends that the Respondent be disbarred.