Covington lawyer William Magee could lose his law license if the state Supreme Court agrees with the state's legal watchdog agency, which recommended last month that Magee be disbarred because of the way he tried to gain ownership of St. Tammany Parish properties that had belonged to absentee owners.
In a March 8 filing, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel said that Magee violated rules of professional conduct by making a false statement of fact, offering evidence that he knew to be false and engaging in conduct that involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
Magee is accused of filing for declaratory judgments to take possession of property without a credible factual or legal basis.
According to the filing, he did this by creating fictitious quit claim deeds from his corporation, Hickory Glade Inc., believing that he had found a way to acquire property after only one year of possession instead of the 30 years provided for by the Louisiana Civil Code.
A quit claim deed is a legal instrument that's used to transfer an interest in real estate. The owner, or grantee, "quits" or terminates any right or claim to the property, allowing the recipient to claim it.
But the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filing said that Magee signed the deeds using the name of his Hickory Glade co-owner, Timothy Dunaway, as the "seller," without Dunaway's knowledge or consent, and then put his own name on the documents as the buyer, "all with the evident intention of having the documents suggest that the transfers were routine 'arm's length' transactions."
Magee then filed the fabricated quit claims into the public record and cited them later as evidence to obtain title to the properties from the courts, filing default judgment proceedings against the properties and owners in absentia in 22nd Judicial District Court, according to the filing.
None of the absentee owners were made aware of Magee's intended acquisition of their property, and he failed to disclose in court the false nature of the quit claim deeds, the filing said.
Magee could not be reached for comment. But Bill Plattsmier, chief disciplinary counsel for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, said Magee's attorney had filed an objection to the recommendation.
That objection will be heard by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which also will decide whether to follow the recommendation to disbar Magee. Plattsmier said that decision is probably some months away.
The complaint against Magee is not new, with formal charges first made in April 2015 and hearings held in early 2016.
But the transactions in question happened even earlier, between 1999 and 2001. Magee's actions came to light years later when third parties who had bought the properties, without knowing what Magee had done, ran into difficulties when they discovered they did not have clear title to their homes.
One couple, Lloyd and Nicole Martin, filed suit against their title insurer, who in turn filed a claim against Magee. Some of the property owners went on to file a civil racketeering action against Magee and others. Magee fired back with a defamation lawsuit, and the property owners filed a disciplinary complaint against him.
According to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filing, the people who ended up buying the properties suffered financially.
The Martins were facing financial difficulties and were trying to sell their Abita Springs home, but a closing fell through in 2008 because of the title defects. They ended up having to default on their mortgage and were unable to sell their home until seven years later, in 2015 — a short sale that forced them to assume another $10,000 in debt "which they are currently paying down," the filing said.
Andrea and John Lampo, who had bought another of the properties, were delayed three years in their attempt to refinance their home, the filing said.
Those property owners, as well as another named Carol Robinson, also were hit by Magee's defamation lawsuit.
According to the filing, Magee asked them to meet with him at the Abita Brew Pub in 2015 and tried to persuade them to drop complaints they had made to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, in return for his dismissal of the defamation action.
Magee "behaved arrogantly, dismissive of the misfortunes the complainants had endured because of his misdeeds," the filing said. "He ridiculed the complainants as 'losers' at the meeting, making an 'L' sign on his forehead with his thumb and forefinger."
According to the filing, Magee has argued that he shouldn't be disciplined for submitting the quit claim deeds to establish civil possession of the properties because the deeds in fact were unnecessary, because physical possession alone is sufficient.
He also argued that he had implied permission from his partner to sign his name to the quit claim deeds and that the company later ratified the act.
But the Office of Disciplinary Counsel was unswayed by either argument. "The fact that his wrongful conduct was gratuitous does not make it any less wrongful," the office's filing said of the false quit claims. "Instead it shows (Magee's) state of mind and his intent to deceive."