By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently suspended an attorney for misrepresenting his client by filing multiple baseless lawsuits against a condominium association.
It’s common knowledge that suing one’s homeowners or condo association is akin to a David vs. Goliath battle. State law skews in favor of the mandatory membership associations, and an HOA benefits from its collective resources, including a sizable pool of money from assessments and fees.
That seemingly endless supply of Other People’s Money, which homeowners must pay No Matter What, is commonly used to pay for its bulldog HOA attorneys and insurance policies that protect the corporation’s interests.
Not surprisingly, HOAs tend to have more money than individual property owners or shareholders. So most attorneys prefer to represent the association rather than one of its members.
Therefore, a homeowner usually finds it difficult to retain a competent and ethical attorney to go up against his HOA. Frankly, it’s slim pickings for housing consumers who wish to assert or defend their private property rights or civil rights.
Every once in a while, a homeowner with substantial wealth or intestinal fortitude is willing to fight their HOA “on principle.” Sometimes the homeowner has legitimate claims, and sometimes he doesn’t.
But a strong-willed homeowner who chooses the wrong type of attorney can go broke paying legal fees with little to show for his investment in so-called justice.
That’s the situation for Daniel King, a the owner of a townhouse governed by Riverwatch Condominium Owners Association.
Last month, Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended King’s attorney, former Republican State Rep. Tom Gannon, for two years. PA SC ruled that Gannon engaged in frivolous and vexatious litigation against Riverwatch Condo Association, beginning with a $3,500 case in Magisterial Court.
King’s orignal case involved a demand for recovery of repair costs for a defective steel I-beam in the homeowners garage. Although the condo association recovered costs from its Architect, King refused to allow the association’s contractor to enter his unit to make repairs.
Riverwatch reportedly fined Kinkg $100 per day for his refusal to allow their contractor to enter his property.
King was also unfortunate in a subsequent lawsuit filed in the Court of Common Pleas, where a Judge ruled in favor of his condo association. Still, Riverwatch did agree to waive $70,000 in accrued fines.
According to the SC ruling, Gannon continued to file multiple appeals all the way up to the state’s highest court. Each appeal was denied. But Gannon continued to file dozens of motions and lawsuits in trying to invalidate earlier Appellate Court rulings.
The SC ruling says that Gannon misrepresented his client and was found in contempt of court in 2017.
All of these factors led to Gannon’s two year suspension.
In the meantime, Daily Times reports that King’s bank accounts are nearly depleted as he files for bankruptcy. The 71-year-old retired mechanic says he relied on his attorney to pursue legal claims with merit.
But it now appears that Gannon was merely milking his client for all he was worth.
Gannon argues that his client’s counterclaims were never considered in court. While that may be true, it was the attorney’s responsibility to avoid fruitless battles.
Instead, according to court records, Gannon continued to pile up billable hours for his legal services, ultimately pursuing claims in federal court.
PA Supreme Court observes that Gannon shows no remorse for stringing his client along.
Some might argue that Gannon’s suspension is politically motivated. But, then again, others might argue that Gannon’s relentless pursuit to undermine Common Pleas Court Judge Burr’s opinions were also politically motivated.
This condo/HOA horror story should serve as a reminder to PA State Legislators that the legal playing field is severely unbalanced against homeowners. If homeowners had equal access to legal representation for their legitimate property rights and civil rights claims, perhaps justice would be possible.
If homeowners could insure their property rights, in the same manner as corporate homeowners associations, perhaps more attorneys would be willing to provide legal representation to individual owners.
If the state took a serious stand to protect the Civil Rights of its residents, by fully funding legal aid organizations, it would prevent a great deal of legal abuse by HOA corporations.
At the very least, equal representation of homeowners and residents in the PA court system would prevent the endless barrage of frivolous lawsuits, motions, and appeals filed by HOAs as well as unreasonable homeowners.
Former state Rep. Gannon suspended from practicing law for two years
Alex Rose Dec 27, 2018
Former state Rep. Tom Gannon has been suspended from practicing law in the state for two years due to multiple rules violations incurred while representing a client in a condominium association action, according to an order entered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Friday.
“The facts demonstrate that (Gannon) abused the court system for the last eight years in connection with his representation of Daniel King against Riverwatch (Condominium Owners Association) in litigation concerning reimbursement of monies King expended to repair a structural defect in his townhouse,” the order states. “…The record is replete with multiple instances to sustain (Gannon’s) violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
Gannon, 75, a Republican, represented the 161st Legislative District from 1979 to 2006, when he was succeeded by former state Rep. Bryan Lentz, a Democrat. The seat is currently held by Democrat Leanne Krueger-Braneky of Swarthmore.
Gannon has likewise failed to pay a $10,500 contempt judgment entered against him in April 2017, further indicating he does not accept responsibility for his actions, the order says, and Riverwatch has incurred more than $87,000 in legal fees due to Gannon’s filings following the June 2010 verdict.
The order says Gannon also misrepresented to Burr that King was unable to attend a hearing in 2016 because he had been in a car accident two weeks prior. King later testified that no such accident had taken place and Gannon never corrected the misrepresentation, according to the order.
The order notes that King, 70, is a retired mechanic living on a fixed income and has now filed for bankruptcy.
The Disciplinary Board found Gannon had violated six areas of professional conduct, including false statements; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; engaging in a frivolous action; and providing incompetent representation.