BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
THOMAS GORDON MAAG,
Commission No. 2018PR00099
FILED --- November 26, 2018
Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Gary S. Rapaport, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent, Thomas Gordon Maag, who was licensed to practice law in Illinois on November 9, 2000, and alleges that Respondent has engaged in the following conduct which subjects him to discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770:
(Conflicts of interest in the acquisition of a client's house and suing the client for eviction and damages while concurrently representing her in other matters)
1. On April 21, 2015, Respondent and Brittany Rose Nicole Gresham ("Gresham") agreed that Respondent would enter his appearance and represent Gresham in pending litigation between Gresham and Ricky Myers ("Myers"), who was the father of Gresham's children, concerning the custody and support of the children. The matter was previously docketed in the Circuit Court for Madison County, Illinois, as case number 07-F-336. Respondent and Gresham agreed that Respondent's fee would be $275 per hour and that Gresham would provide a security retainer in the amount of $500. Gresham paid the agreed security retainer, and Respondent entered his appearance in case number 07-F-336.
2. In August 2015, Gresham suffered a broken hip while on premises owned by John L. Boswell when John's son, Brad Boswell (together, "the Boswells"), bumped Gresham and caused her to fall. Subsequently, Respondent and Gresham agreed that Respondent would represent her in a legal action against the Boswells for monetary damages arising from her injury. They agreed that Respondent's fee would be contingent and equal to one-third of the amount of any recovery. On April 16, 2017, Respondent and Gresham signed a written representation contract to that effect, and on February 23, 2017, Respondent filed a lawsuit for Gresham. The matter was docketed in the Circuit Court for Madison County as case number 2017-L-284, titled Britanny Gresham, Plaintiff, v. John L. Boswell and Brad Boswell, Defendants.
3. As of December 5, 2017, the above-described legal matters were pending and Respondent continued to serve as Gresham's attorney.
4. On December 5, 2017, Respondent and Gresham met at Respondent's office. In the meeting, they agreed that Respondent would represent Gresham in additional legal matters, including 10 misdemeanor charges that the Madison County State's Attorney had filed against Gresham in 2017, and a civil action against the arresting officers for false arrest in connection with one of the charges. They agreed that Respondent would charge a fixed fee to Gresham in the amount of $10,000 for his representation in the misdemeanor cases. For the false arrest action, they agreed that Respondent's fee would be $300 per hour, and that, if the action was successful, Respondent would petition to assess his fees against the defendants.
5. In the meeting on December 5, 2017, Respondent presented to Gresham a quit claim deed by which Gresham would convey her house and real estate in Wood River, Illinois, to Respondent's law firm, Maag Law Firm, LLC. Gresham resided in the property and had owned it since 2010. The deed that Respondent presented to Gresham recited that the consideration for the conveyance was "$30,000 in legal services in hand paid" to her. Gresham signed the deed. Respondent and Gresham understood and agreed that after the conveyance, Gresham would continue to reside in the Wood River property indefinitely. After the execution of the deed, Gresham continued to reside there.
6. According to Respondent, Gresham's conveyance of her residence was in payment of the $10,000 fixed fee for representation in the new misdemeanor cases and in payment of $20,000 that Gresham allegedly owed to Respondent for previous legal services. Respondent claimed that he had earned legal fees totaling $20,000 for his services in the child custody and support case (number 07-F-336) which Gresham had not paid.
7. At no time did Respondent prepare, and at no time did he or Gresham sign, a written agreement that reflected premises, terms or conditions of the real estate transaction.
8. Between December 5 and December 8, 2017, Respondent filed appearances for Gresham in the 10 misdemeanor cases that were pending in the Circuit Court for Madison County (case numbers 17-CM-667 and 668; 17-CM-672, 673 and 674; 17-CM-1097 and 1098; 17-CM-1196 and 1197; and 17-CM-100712). In that time, Respondent also filed the false arrest lawsuit for Gresham (and a co-plaintiff, Jerry Yeager) in the Circuit Court for Madison County, docketed as case number 17-L-1653, and titled Jerry Yeager and Brittany Gresham v. Richard Dooley and Joseph W. Skortz, Jr.
9. On December 6, 2017, Respondent recorded the deed that Gresham had signed in the Madison County Recorder's office.
10. In relation to the real estate transaction with Gresham, the quit claim deed and the recording of the deed, Respondent placed his own financial interests in direct conflict with the financial interests of Gresham, who was his client.
11. At no time did Respondent advise Gresham that, in relation to their real estate transaction, the deed and the recording of the deed, his interests conflicted with her interests.
12. At no time did Respondent inform Gresham, in writing or otherwise, that she was entitled to seek the advice of independent legal counsel and have a reasonable opportunity to do so, in relation to their real estate transaction, including the value of the property, the value of the purported consideration, the deed and the recording of the deed.
13. At no time did Respondent obtain Gresham's informed consent, in a writing signed by her, to the essential terms of the transaction in which she conveyed her real estate to Respondent's law firm and Respondent's role in the transaction, including whether he was representing her in the transaction.
14. At no time did Respondent prepare, and at no time did he or Gresham sign, a lease, contract, or any written document that provided for Gresham's continued occupancy of the Wood River property or protected her interests in continuing to reside there.
15. On March 2, 2018, while he continued to serve as Gresham's attorney in ongoing legal matters, Respondent sent a letter to her in which he directed her to vacate the Wood River house. In the letter, Respondent offered "to discuss a formal lease" with Gresham in the event that she wished to return to the house, after she vacated it and certain repairs were completed.
16. On March 3, 2018, Respondent conveyed the Wood River property by quit claim deed from his law firm to Maag Holdings, LLC, which was a business entity in which Respondent owned a 50% interest.
17. As of April 3, 2018, Respondent continued to represent Gresham in ongoing legal matters, including case number 07-F-336, the lawsuits in case numbers 17-L-284 and 17-L-1653, and the misdemeanor charge in case number 17-CM-100712.
18. On April 3, 2018, Respondent filed a lawsuit against Gresham seeking her eviction from the house in Wood River and monetary compensation for alleged damage that she caused to the property. The matter was docketed in the Circuit Court for Madison County as case number 18-LM-372, titled Maag Holdings, LLC, Plaintiff, v. Brittany Rose Nicole Gresham, Defendant.
19. Gresham obtained counsel from Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc., to represent her in the eviction matter and filed responsive pleadings, including claims against Respondent of fraud and unconscionability in relation to the transaction for the quit claim deed on December 5, 2017. On May 31, 2018, the court in case number 18-L-372 entered an order that dismissed the litigation on terms that included, among other things, that Respondent convey the Wood River property back to Gresham.
20. By reason of his conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
representing a client when there is a significant risk that the representation of the client will be materially limited by a personal interest of the lawyer, by conduct including that Respondent represented Brittany Gresham in multiple legal matters while concurrently filing and prosecuting a lawsuit against her for eviction from property claimed by Respondent and monetary damages for alleged damage to the property, in violation of Rule 1.7(a)(2) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010); and
entering into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquiring an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to the client, by conduct including that Respondent transacted with his client Brittany Gresham for the conveyance of ownership of her residence to Respondent's law firm in payment for purported legal services, and he recorded the deed, while Gresham continued to reside in the home, without informing Gresham in writing that she may seek the advice of independent legal counsel and have a reasonable opportunity to do so, and without obtaining her informed consent, in a writing signed by Gresham, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer's role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction, in violation of Rule 1.8(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
WHEREFORE, the Administrator requests that this matter be assigned to a panel of the Hearing Board, that a hearing be held, and that the panel make findings of fact, conclusions of fact and law, and a recommendation for such discipline as is warranted.
Gary S. Rapaport
Jerome Larkin, Administrator